Minor Characters

You know how sometimes in a play or movie there are these characters with minor roles that greatly enhance the show?

On a recent business trip to NY I encountered three people who struck me in an odd way.  I was overcome with this sense that in the movie of my life, or more appropriately the movie that is my life, in a two-day period I happened upon three people who would have made the final credits though towards the bottom of the list.  More than  extras but less than leading or supporting roles.  They all had small speaking parts in scenes that helped the audience, if there had been one, understand me as a person and added more than mere plot.  Let me present them in order of appearance.

The first is “Elevator Man”. As the scene opens I am in my hotel room dressing for dinner with clients at a nice restaurants. Though I am a blue jeans and T Shirt kind of guy I need to be in a suit for this event.  As I wait for the elevator i lament that I need to be dressed in more than business casual attire.  As the elevator door opens I smile and shake my head. The only other passenger is a guy in his 50s (I am guessing) medium height, thinning dark hair, with the air of an executive but the clothes a casual m. He was in a V neck sweatshirt with a deep V and no shirt underneath, a running jacket and blue jeans  (OK the jeans were designer and probably cost more than several pairs of my Levis). I had to say something. “That is how I wish I was dressed.” He glanced over at me and said, “I was dressed like you all day. You must still be on the job. ”  “Yeah. Business dinner.” As the elevator reached the lobby we exchanged, have a good nights and he headed to the door. I met my client in the lobby. The screen goes dark.

Next meet, Young Italian Lawyer.   In order to get into the place we wanted to have dinner that night we needed clout. Clout came in the form of the law firm that hosted my client’s meeting those two days. Three of us walked out of our hotel and headed to the law offices in order to meet Joseph, the young lawyer who was low enough on the totem pole that he got assigned to walk the clients to the restaurant , flash the firm’s special membership card and then leave. We joked that this would be the easiest chargeable hour he had in a long time.

To our pleasant surprise “Joe”, not Joseph, was personable and interesting. He shared stories of how his firm was representing NBA players in the lockout and that in his prior job he had assisted in negotiating the contract of some famous NY Jets player. He was tall, slender, good-looking and dressed like a fashionable young lawyer. He was not the least bit down at having this menial late night task. We had a modestly long walk together and he both entertained and listened.  We offered to at least share a drink if not dinner but he politely excused himself.  His job was done and he would not intrude.  The restaurant was fun, the food good and the wine excellent. Yet Joe was the hit of the night.

On the plane ride home the odds rolled in my favor. Not only did i get on an earlier flight but so did my client and by the longest of odds we found ourselves seated next to each other on the plane. At this point I need to mention that she is one of my favorite clients. Both good at what she does and fun to be with. We were in the window and center seats which left the aisle seat to be filled. Let me introduce Aisle Guy.

This client and I regularly joke back and forth. Aisle guy jumped right in as if we had known him for years. If this had been a serious private conversation that might have been annoying and a bit rude. I suspect Aisle Guy only took the initiative because the conversation was light and barbs were being tossed right and left.  By the end of the flight we knew that he was in sales, the company he worked for, what part of NY he lived in and lots about his twin girls. Pictures were shared.

Over the years i have interacted with hundreds if not thousands of these minor characters. I am not sure why these three brought this theme to my mind. All I can say is that they made the movie better.

Bad Service In Three Languages

We wanted desperately to get out-of-town for the Thanksgiving weekend. Warm weather preferred but we ended up in Montreal. That was OK. Billed as the most European city in North America. Neither of us had been there in ages and we were open to the magic of the city.

More on the total trip later. For now let us focus one experience that could have been just what we wanted but instead left a bad taste in our mouths.

On our first day we arrived late afternoon which left us just enough time to explore Old Montreal for a while and then have dinner. Our spirits were high going to dinner. We were together away from the stresses of normal life. The Notre-Dame Basilica was magnificent and other part s of old Montreal held promise.

Being people who enjoy joints as well as fine dining we headed off to nearby Chinatown to a restaurant that had good on-line reviews. A full place with a modest wait further raised expectation. Choosing from the usual too long Chinese menu took time but our selections were made. The waiter spoke broken English but had been polite and helpful in the selection. All good.

And then the food came. My Szechuan seafood came first and was tasty but then came my wife’s “sizzling” beef. It was not what she expected given the menu’s description, it looked bad and after one bite she knew it was not to her liking.  A different waiter had brought our food. We called him over and explained the situation. He looked as if he had never had a customer tell him a dish was bad. He he had a puzzled look and did not seem to know what to do. He finally said that he would go and speak to his manager.

At this point there were only two courses of action in my mind. The one I would have expected was that they would apologize and ask what else they could bring instead. Yet this was a small place and I was willing to accept that we would pay for a choice we made but order something else. We soon found out that there was a third alternative.

The waiter came back from peaking to his manager and whisked away the food saying nary a word. That was the last contact we had with him that evening. We had been transformed from happy tourists to unhappy invisible lepers. We waited several minutes while sharing my meal and the side dish we had ordered. We waited several minutes expecting the waiter to bring back a menu and let us select a second entree. Instead he entered and left the room several times without making eye contact. I can be overly patient. this was one of those times.

Finally I walked up to the manager and explained that we had been ignored and wanted to order. His first words were that there was nothing wrong with how the dish had been prepared. He then handed me a menu. Several more minutes went by with no waiter approaching our table or even willing to acknowledge our presence.

I became incensed but at that point my wife was resigned. We asked for the bill. They did not charge us for the meal — only fitting since they did not provide the option of keeping the food. The manager came by to ask us how our second entree was. I informed him that we had none and that we had never been approached by a waiter. He was nonplussed and unapologetic. 

This experience put a serious damper on the day even  though it was them and not us at fault.

Maybe if we had tried communicating in the French of Montreal or in Mandarin instead of English. Nah. The service at this place would have sucked in any language.

Having People You Can Trust

Do you have a circle of people you trust?

Last Saturday my 8-year-old VW visited the dealership to have them fix a recall problem.  ( The specifics of the recall are not relevant to the story but know that my fear of spontaneous combustion in the car has fallen dramatically.) After awhile the dealer guy who checked me in stopped by to let me know that they found two additional things to repair. $30 for replacing rear brake lights and $700 for repairing something called CV boots. I had them replace the bulbs even though I suspected that if they charged $30 it could be done for $10 but why risk a rear end collision over 20 bucks. The dealer guy was stunned that I would not get the other repair done and iterated how serious of a problem this was. I politely declined.

The mechanic I now use, and trust, looked the car over on Tuesday and said that yes, one but not both CV boots needed repair and it would cost $250. $250 vs. $700!!! What does that say about the dealer.

That got me thinking about who I trust and how that trust came to be… and whether people trust me?

My musings quickly went beyond people who provide a service even though this category of people is vast and they can play important roles in our physical and financial well-being. I refer to doctors, contractors, financial investors, care givers, teachers, counselors, etc. While not dismissing their importance, I view the road to trust as fairly straightforward with this this group. In the old days you would get a referral from someone you know. Now the internet provides dozens of forums for sharing our thoughts and experiences with service providers. Finding something on a website even carries more weight. If it is in “print” it must be true. We assume trust and then only when the evidence proves otherwise do we loose faith and start the process over.

So who do I trust and why?

I trust my friends, my close friends. As I think about it I am having trouble distinguishing between trust and true friendship.  I truly believe that if I really needed something my friends would step up. I am friendly with quite a few people but the number of people I count as close friends is few. With me, there is this deep cavern between someone I know and a friend. But once that cavern has been bridged, I “mate” for life. In fact once a friend, even if you disappoint me now and again I still believe in you.

Some bonds of friendship grew up over years. I accumulated friends at all of the major stages of my life. Yet in some instances the bond came fast. Some shared experience, feeling, moment we both hold dear. All of these people carry me through the tough times and lift me higher during the best of times. I am a better man because of who they are.

I hope people trust me. I know that I have had moments when I have let people down and moments when I stepped up big. I hope the people I think of as friends think of me that way.

This stream of consciousness has taken me  from thoughts of general public trust to feelings about people I care for. What a strange journey.

Ridin’ In The Rain

This morning’s ride never felt right. Tired, got in too late the night before. Dead legs, maybe from a big swim the day before. Mentally just not into it.

And the clouds.

Looking out the window when I awoke, it was dark. The forecast was for intermittent showers. But I either rode this morning or never. Too much to do later in the day. So I kept going. Filled the water bottle. Put on the bike clothes. Checked the tires.

Off  I went.

There was this constant feeling of dread. I looked up to the heavens ever few minutes. The sky was dark…but was it getting lighter to the west? The sun would pop through the clouds every once in a while and yet it was mostly dark. Inside and out.

The feeling of dread continued. My legs were not working as they should. I was struggling and I had not even gone 5 miles (on my way to 50 was the plan). A pack of bikers passed by. I entertained myself trying to keep up but then the hill came and they were gone.

I knew I had work and house stuff to do and if I rode 50 I would be too tired.  That weighed on my mind. So even as I lurched forward my mind and body conspired against me. And then there were those clouds. I picked a spot to turn around that was way too soon. I would go out later and add miles if I felt better I promised myself.

Within minutes of heading home the rain came. Heavy at first. Big drops. Then a steady downpour. I was 10 miles from home. That would have been 40 minutes in dry conditions but the rain makes me drop to casual ride speeds. I had learned my lesson early about speed and turns and thin tires at 100 psi. that day just left me with scraped legs and a bruised ego. I will not risk being that lucky a second time.

For a short time ridin’ in the rain had a romantic feel. The storm was not strong enough to invoke a sense of adventure. But this was different from my usual ride. The large drops felt cool on my skin and I figured what the f…

That romantic feeling faded fast. soon I was just wet and cold. My feet felt as if I was standing in puddles and the rain drove the sweat into my eyes. That burned. No, not in danger but this was no longer fun.

It took an hour but I was home. Ripped off my wet stuff wrapped a towel around me and made breakfast. Finally the day ahead seemed brighter. Then the scream. Hundreds of ant in the food pantry. That is another story.

It Was The Best Of Rides, It was the Worst Of Rides

When I do something particularly well I imagine the next time will be as good or better. Assuming an upward trajectory is a common mistake. Reality more often is a series of hills. If you are good, over time the overall elevation gets higher but there is always some up and down. (Not sure if that analogy worked as well as it did in side my head. What do you think?)

Two weeks ago I rode better than I had in years. I woke up sluggish and the first few miles on the bike were nothing special. The conditions were good but not great (3.5-4.0 on a 5.0 scale). Temps were in the mid 60s and a modest wind from the east which had little effect on my mostly north-south ride. But soon something magical began to happen. I decided to push the pace and my body actually responded. I felt strong the entire first half of the ride. Instead of merely pedaling I was pedaling hard.

OK. This was the first half. This has happened before. More often than not when I feel like a hero I discover that the wind has been at my back. I turned after 27 miles. Waiting for the wind or for my legs to begin to beg me to slow. Never happened. I felt great. I forced the action for the next 28 miles. I rode 55 (it was my birthday and I rode one mile for each year on the planet.) I averaged a hair under 16 mph while riding which was more than .5 mph faster than my best time so far this year. I cannot remember averaging that speed for that long in several years. The difference between my total time and my ride time was only 8 minutes. That was one 3 minute break at 30 miles and lots of stop lights. I have been semi-seriously riding for 6 years and my speed had plateaued. Riding faster has been a desire for several years. On that day I did feel like a hero.

Fast forward to yesterday. Yes I completed 52 miles. But I can’t really count this as a 50 mile ride. I struggled from the beginning. Barely able to move for ward. The signs were there at 17 miles that I should not make this a 50 miler. (Visualize in cartoon fashion a big sign saying “Rick Turn Back NOW!!!) I had to stop, I was breathing hard and my legs ached. But I am stubborn. Or stupid. On I went.I ended up making several stops along the way. Towards the end I stopped every few miles. I only can hope that the effort I put in burned a whole bunch of calories. If not the 4+ hours I spent were for naught.

So how did I fall from my best ride ever to hell on wheels? Certainly part can be explained by the weather. Yesterday was 85 with high humidity. It was my first ride in the heat. And yet the delta was too great for the heat  to be the only factor.

I can think of several possibilities. I had not gotten enough sleep that night or for the past week. After many weeks of relatively healthy eating I had given into candy on several occasions recently. I do consider sugar to be a poison. Just a particularly tasty one.  Lastly I had not gone swimming for two weeks. Swimming adds to my aerobic capacity and overall feeling of goodness.

Whatever the reasons, I have until tomorrow to contemplate what this means for the future. Was my birthday ride an anomaly and destined to be the pinnacle of my riding success? Will i be able to adjust to the summer heat? Can I ride enough to complete a century ride by the end of the summer? That is my ultimate goal. As of yesterday the answer is no way in hell.

But tomorrow thanks to the extended holiday weekend I will ride again. The intrigue of the unknown consumes my thoughts. And I hope for the best.

9 Is Not 15

Alternative Title, “Don’t Sit Across From A Mirror In The Locker Room”.

From the beginning. Fifty-one days ago I set a goal to lose 15 pounds in 50 days by 55. Saturday was 50 days and the completion of my 55th year on the planet. At the time the goal seemed challenging but reasonable…and necessary. The time passed but too many of the pounds stayed.

Yes, losing 9 pounds is “better than nothing” however, I have always thought this was a poor standard and something people say because they think it will make you feel better even though it never makes them feel better when they hear it from someone else. I do feel and look better with 9 less pounds but I am not where I want to be. So what went wrong?

Well, everything and nothing. The nothing. I said from the start that I intended to lose weight in a way that I could maintain. I did not want to take anything or do anything that once I stopped the weight would return. That I have done. The good news. I dramatically cut my processed sugar intake. Using fruit as a substitute I gave up candy, cake, etc. for 5 weeks. I weakened in the last two weeks but I can come back from that. Prior to that I would have something with lots of sugar most days. Candy bars and  muffins topped the list. I also cut down my caffeinated coffee intake from 5 to 3 cups a week. I expected these two changes plus some added exercise  to be worth close to 15 pounds over 50 days. No such luck.

The everything. I cannot stop eating. The quality has generally been better (more fruits and veggies, lower fat) but if I have one portion then I have three. Not sure what drives that behavior. Rationally I say every day, before every eating opportunity, that I will exercise self-control. But in the heat of the moment something evil takes over my brain. It isn’t even like the cartoons with the devil on one shoulder and an angel on another — there is no angel.

I know people with amazing self-control. They are goal oriented. They do what they say they will do. Apparently that is not me. Darn

So I am working toward my next goal. By Mitch’s birthday, exactly one month after mine, I will drop the six pounds I wanted off in the first place. The sad thing is that to get to where I was just 5 years ago I have several pounds after that. Baby steps. (Remember the movie “What About Bob” with Bill Murray. Hilarious. But I digress.)

Onward and downward. Off with the waist. Getting rid of my Fat Wish (some people have a death wish, mine is a little different.)

…Well you get the point. Check in around July 18. Maybe I’ll do pictures. Maybe.

Do You Know The People You Know?

Dave died in our office this week. A heart attack as far as we know. No one knows why him, why now. He was only 50.

I knew Dave for a long time, over 20 years but casually. My relationship with him was indirect, through other people.

Here is what I thought I knew about Dave. Nice guy. By all accounts 10 out of 10 on the nice scale. Generally quiet but not totally introverted by any stretch. Worked hard. Was in process of taking a half step back in his career to retool. A good consultant (that is the business we are in). Analytical and math oriented, he trained as an actuary though that is not the work he was doing at his death.

Other than that I knew a few facts. His wife is great. (She is the younger sister of a friend of mine I have known since grade school. I have known her since she was ten. Growing up their homes was one of my secondary homes. I have always liked her a lot.) They have three kids, two boys and a girl. Their eldest will be going to college next year. They live in a north Chicago suburb, a nice middle class neighborhood.

Not much else. He joined the company I work for about nine months ago. So Instead of seeing him at my friend’s house maybe once a year I now ran into him a few times a month. He was domiciled  in a different office but sometimes I would work in his and sometimes he in mine. We do similar things but have not worked on anything together. When I saw him we would chat for a few minutes about work and home life. Usual office conversation.

So for a normal casual relationship I guess I knew the basics plus a little. Didn’t really know what made him tick or what he did outside the office other than be a husband and father.

Words of warning. You may want to go deeper. There may be some gems hidden below the surface. Don’t wait for a funeral to find out.

Here are some things I found out about Dave:

  • he was a leader in his synagogue. He was to be appointed President of the congregation four days after he died
  • he was passionate about being Jewish
  • he found time not only to be involved in the synagogue but volunteered and in some cases led other worthy causes
  • he loved music and played several instruments
  • he touched many lives (there were several hundred people at his funeral service)
  • he had a dry and sometimes dark sense of humor
  • he worked tirelessly both in support of these causes but also to be with and help his family
  • his children loved and admired him (his eldest gave a phenomenal speech about his dad)

There was more. Much more. If I had not met Dave but only heard the words spoken about him I would have thought here is a man to be admired, an inspiration, someone I need to get to know. The worst part is that I had the opportunity to get to know this man. I mean really get to know him since I kind of knew him — or so I thought.

How many people around me would enrich my life if I got to know them better? Everyone. No. But what if the number is 5 or 10.  Another several good friends, interesting people who would make my life more interesting. Wow.

Now I am somewhat shy by nature. That is part of the reason I do not go deeper. However I also am very quick to make judgements about people. I decide within moments if I think they worth my precious time.

Maybe I need to not be so quick to judge. Maybe I should check below the surface for that gem.

Maybe you should too.

I Watched A Man Die Today

Wars, natural disasters, murder, old age, cancer. People die every day. Thousands of them. Every day. The difference today is that I was there.

It did not make a difference to Dave. He was not even aware that I was there. By the time I saw him he could not see me.

I have known Dave for at least 20 years. We were not close though I knew him well enough to know that he was a really good guy and a good man. We are not connected so much by work, though his death  started in our office just feet from where I sit, but through other connections. A million years ago he dated a woman I worked with that was a friend. Later he married my close friend’s sister. I have known her since we were little kids. It is often strange the web of connections that binds two people.

It still feels like a dream or a sad movie. It can’t be real. He was just here. He just turned 50. Five years younger than me. On Sunday he watched his eldest child, a son, graduate from high school. Monday morning he went to his youngest child’s rehearsal for graduation from middle school. Because he had missed part of the morning he came to our office instead of the one at which he normally works. Our office is closer to his home than his real office 20 miles away. He walked in and waved to people he knew as he went to the guest office. He never made it in.

I heard the thud from my desk. I heard someone ask him if he was OK. I heard that question again a moment later and I ran out to see what was happening. Dave had fallen to his knees. A cubical wall kept him from falling forward. I saw his face.

The look on his faced is etched forever in my memory. Eyes wide open. Glassy stare. Lips apart. Still breathing but labored. Not responding to our voices. Nothingness.

Call 911! Get the Security people up here now! She called immediately. And again. Where were they?

Trying to figure out what to do. Someone slipped his briefcase off his shoulder. We got him lying down. He still was breathing but did not respond to our voices. His face was turning red. None of us knew what to do. I felt so helpless.

Fortunately people came who seemed to know what to do until the paramedics arrived. They gave CPR and used a defibrillator. Finally after what was probably only a few more minutes but seemed like a lifetime the paramedics arrived. They worked on him for 40 minutes or more. We were asked to stay back so I could not tell how he was doing.  I alternated between not wanted to watch and needing to get a clue as to how he was doing. All of this nightmare would go away if he just came out of this OK. He had to. But he didn’t.

While waiting we looked at each other. Dave’s wife had been called. We agreed on who would follow the ambulance to the hospital. I would stay behind with the team. About 15 of my people were there when it was happening. Someone needed to tend to them as well.

They were still doing CPR when they took him away which I took as a bad sign. Over the next hours I only had hope because I had not heard otherwise. Then the call I did not want to answer came.

I did not and still do not know what to feel…or more accurately how I feel. I learned from my mom’s death that death is strange. It only is the end for the one who dies. The rest of us need to go on. Her death was the only other one I had witnessed but in her case she had been ill for quite some time and we knew it was coming.

So I am sad, numb and feeling very mortal. Sad for losing a guy I knew and liked. Sad for his wife who I have known and liked forever. Sad for his children. Sad for all who loved him and called him friend. Sad for Dave. He will not be here to witness all of the future events of his three children.  Numb. I have started to cry at least a dozen times. Started but have not yet bawled. Why is that? Am I not sad enough? Am I not sensitive enough? Shouldn’t I be crying? Isn’t that what we are SUPPOSED TO DO when someone dies. Crazy the thoughts in your head at times like these. Crazier what people say.

First, you should know that I have a high tolerance for any and all reactions when people are sick or have died. No one knows how to act. There is no etiquette. We all grieve in our own way. There is no right or wrong. So the things I am about to share are not meant as a critique but just the craziness of dealing with tragedy.

Let’s start the “what stupid things people say in these times” with me. At some point while he was still on the ground with the paramedics I turned to the next guy and said something to the effect of “I could have gone my whole life without seeing something like this.” Wow. How selfish and thoughtless. Here he was fighting for his life and I was thinking about how it impacted me.  As the saying goes, “It is not about you”, meaning me. Again the craziness of the moment. Because in some sense it was not about him. The dead need no sympathy. They no longer care what you think or say. It was however, about his wife, his children, his close extended family and a long list of people before it was about me.

But what can you say. As we were waiting for the news from the hospital many people asked me if I was OK.  Of course I understand they are only trying to be empathetic and anyways what else could you ask. But am I OK? AM I OK? Hell no I am not OK. I am anything but OK. And yet I thank them for there concern and tell them I am fine because that is what you do.

One colleague came rushing in. He had been by before when the event was first unfolding and now it was between the time they took Dave to the hospital and THE CALL. He sincerely asked that I inform him when we know what happened…and then he reminded me that we will need to get together soon to discuss some client thing. Really. You had to throw that in. Now? But as I said I believe we should be tolerant of any reaction in these circumstances and I mean it.

How should we feel? What should we say? What should we do?

I gathered my work people together after they took him to the hospital and told them that however they need to deal with what happened they should. Most of my people did not know him well if at all but they had been there. I told them to work if staying busy helped or to take a moment, an hour or a day. Most people stayed. I stayed to watch over them.

So now I have shared on a miniscule scale what people in war, first responders and doctors in hospitals see every day. Death is not pretty. It is not what you see in movies and on TV. This was not made up, it was real life. Real Death.

I said I felt mortal. Dave had recently had an echo cardiogram. One of the more sophisticated tests to check your heart and arteries. He was told he was fine. I had one six months ago and was told I am fine. But the docs really don’t know do they? One paternal uncle died of a massive heart attack in his early 60s. I am about to be 55. Another uncle has survived 3 heart attacks. What me worry? (This part is all about me.)

Tomorrow we go on and sort out what this means. One of my bosses mentioned how this puts things in perspective. But what is that perspective? Do we do anything differently tomorrow? Do I? One person at work already resigned from her management role because she decided it was not worth the stress. I tend to be a one foot in front of the other kind of guy. I will go on. Do I change my life?

I have already been exercising more and trying to lose the extra pounds. I will continue though not because of today.

I will try to enjoy my life more and stress out less but change is hard. Maybe I take a year off and go climb a mountain. Maybe.

I am still working out what life means after watching a man die.

15 Pounds In 50 Days By 55

Yesterday I realized that in 50 days I will turn 55. That starts to seem more old than middle-aged to me. Next big birthday is 60.  When did this happen? Last I remember I was having a surprise 40th BDay party.

I have been carrying extra weight for the last few years. Can’t seem to get it off. I think it has been 4 or 5 years since I was consistently at an acceptable weight. So yesterday I vowed to lose 10 pound by my birthday.

I went to the gym for the first time in 6 weeks today (much of that was due to a lingering virus/sinus infection/coughing thing).   Got on the scale. 10 pounds will only get me to FAT. So the new goal is 15. That will get me to HEAVY BUT IN SIGHT OF A REASONABLE WEIGHT.

The scale registered the highest weight I have ever recorded. I am sure that at various times I have weighed more but if I thought I was that heavy I just would not mount the scale.

192.

I am all of 5’7″ with a medium build. I think the height/weight charts call for 160 pounds. From experience I know that I look and feel good below 175 and am skinny at 170. A long way to go.

The thing with me is that I have to do it my way. That means no famous diet, no counting calories and nothing that will help lose the wight but I would not continue once the weight is initially off. The only concerning thought is that “my way” has gotten me to 192. Still as the great philosopher Popeye said, ” I yam what I yam”.

Less food. Cutting down on coffee. cutting processed sugar to as close to zero as possible. I may have to kill the coworker who brings candy in every day.

Wish me luck and provide as much support as possible. I will provide periodic updates on Facebook and if something blog worthy happens during this journey you can read it here.

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.