Drumming Circle

What creates happiness?

I am sitting on a folding chair, one of 20 in a large semi-circle, in a gym, in a small school an hour’s drive from my house. I am smiling. Everyone in the room is smiling. Why is that?

There is a short, late 20’s/early 30’s guy with a shock of wild, thick black hair in the open part of the horseshoe made of chairs. At various times during the 75 minutes he is hitting two wooden objects together or hitting some skin or dancing. He changes cadence from time to time. He is why we all came to this place. He is the instrument of the smiles but not the root cause.

The root cause is music or in this case more specifically rhythm. Rhythm causes happiness. Especially when you participate in making the rhythm.

This is the monthly drumming circle for the developmentally disabled adults that live in the Illinois group homes run by St. Coletta of Wisconsin. My younger sister just celebrated her 25th year as part of this community.

The short guy with the wild hair is a musician who for the past couple of years had lent a couple of hours every month to sharing his joy of rhythm with this community. That makes him one of life’s under-recognized heroes.

The smiles for most in the room come from banging 2 drum sticks together. playing with tambourines or bongos and generally making noise— as a group.The best was at the end when one by one they got to come up and play on the musician’s drum set. Each person had their own rhythms to share but all of them had a huge smile when they finished and received a round of applause.

This week the adults were joined not only by a few family members and the staff but by two of the cutest little girls on the planet. Elly and Eddie (short for Eden) are 6 and 4.5 respectively. I was told by Elly that there is an older sister Emma who is eight and a Brownie but she was at a birthday party. Their Dad teaches at the school and was doing some work in another room nearby.

As I said, most of the smiles were from making rhythm. There were two exceptions. My sister’s smile was in part from watching Elly and Eddie. She loves hanging out with little kids. And while I enjoy banging drum sticks together as much as the next man, my smile came from witnessing all the other smiles in the room.

Can’t wait for the next Drumming Circle.

Like A Good Neighbor…

Technically, the Whites were not “Like” good neighbors. They were good neighbors. Our next door neighbors.

They moved into the house next store to us 26 years ago. That would be 10 years before we arrived. So what did we find when we moved in? Barb and Will greeted us warmly. I especially needed that since I had just entered a very different life which at that moment included a wife, child and home all at once and all for the first time.

That first year in particular I was overwhelmed and we were not doing all the things neighbors do in terms of keeping up their homes. That first summer I admit our lawn was out of control. While some other neighbor left a nasty, anonymous note threatening to report us to the city, Will came by after I had finally cut the lawn to ask “if I would mind” if he trimmed our lawn with his gas trimmer. He did not just offer the trimmer to me but offered to help! I needed that.

Will and Barb were meticulous about their house. They worked hard to keep up a beautiful flower garden in their back yard. Yet, having raised several children they did not go ballistic as our very young son would end up throwing or kicking balls in their yard. The fence was only 18 inches high. We apologized, they smiled. They liked our son a lot. I think they enjoyed have a youngster around.

They gave us one of the greatest gifts possible…their youngest daughter Theresa as our first babysitter in our new home. She was a high school junior at the time. She was the best of all babysitters in so many ways. 1. often available. 2. Great at engaging and entertaining our young and high energy son. 3.Responsible 4. This was the best of all, I did not have to drive her home at the end of the night. I would open the back door and watch as she stepped over the low fence and walked into her back door. (This was such a treat for two years that when our second baby sitter lived down the block it seemed like a “burden” to walk her home.)

Will has an energy and sense of adventure like few people I know. His work had him traveling all over the world and he made sure that he provided opportunities for his family to experience the world and to have a sense that exploring the planet was just another thing that one does.

After he retired he bought a scooter. Not a motorcycle, a scooter. At first this was for local trips but later he took the scooter to Texas and the east coast to visit family. I had visions of Will on the highways pushing that scooter as fast at it could go, a sudden rainstorm not even slowing him down for a moment.

Barb is one of the sweetest people on earth. Dedicated to her family, easy to talk to and someone you wanted to chat with. She is a doer but would also enjoy occasionally sitting on the back porch and reading or just “chatting”.

Over the 16 years we have been Will and Barb’s neighbors most of the conversations occurred “over the fence” while we were in our respective backyards. In addition to discussing family, I would ask questions on how to keep up a garden or do simple household chores. They were always interested in what our son was up to and stories got traded about the local schools or activities in the area. We were not close friends but this is what I had always envisioned as a good neighborly relationship.

Will and Barb are a number of years older than we are. Not actually sure how many. More than 15 probably less than 25. The house had become too much work. Bard has some illness that limits her ability to climb stairs and be as active as she was. A few weeks ago they moved to a condo. They are no longer our next door neighbors. For us this was the end of an era.

Over the years we tried to return the favors. Just the week before they moved I dug their garbage cans out of the six feet of snow that covered theirs and mine. I saw Will as they were putting the very last load of stuff from their house into their car. He thanked me for moving the snow. (Said he would not repeat what another neighbor did. Maybe we are not the only ones getting nasty, anonymous notes.)

They live not far away and I expect that we will keep in touch. I have not met the new neighbors yet but I hope they understand the high standard that the previous owners of the house set. I understand they are a “young” Couple. Perhaps it is my turn to set the example.