7:oo am, Thursday morning.
The voice is unrecognizable to me as I groggily sit up in bed trying to figure out who this might be. They speak in familiar ways as if we chat this time every day, asking how I’m doing and when we got back in town. Slowly, fitting the pieces together, I finally hear a phrase and a tone of voice that gives it away—mystery solved. It’s my high school art teacher, Roger. We haven’t seen him for years. The last time we stopped by his house, he tap danced in the kitchen to a song on a little boom-box, complete with a cane and black top hat; he played several old hymns on the grand piano in the living room, throwing his arms around for dramatic effect; he showed us the latest water colors he had just finished, landscapes he would soon make into note cards; he proudly showed us some calligraphy he was doing for some friends; and if that wasn’t enough, we went out to the barn with him where he put some hay out for the horses. Basically, upon seeing us at the door, he immediately began his age-old routine of endearingly bad jokes, unending puns and storytelling that has always been the consistent backdrop for his life. We were captivated—hadn’t laughed that much in years.
Time has passed, and today’s call paints a slightly different picture. The horses are gone. They’ve been replaced with 40 chickens that lay enough eggs for his extended family of 16 with plenty left over to give away. He doesn’t tap dance anymore due to a bum leg, and claims that he hasn’t painted as much as he would like to (which probably means not much at all). As he yammers on, I can picture how the furniture has been moved around in the house he designed and built (with a little assistance from me over 40 years ago), to make way for what has become his latest collection of 6 keyboards, 4 of which are grand pianos. It seems that he has decided to focus what energy he has on his passion, which always has been: making beautiful music—and he certainly does! After 84 years, his generosity, humor and love of life has not wavered. He’s an inspiration and model for many.
The reason he called me today (which is the first time I ever remember him calling) was because of a dream he had in the night. Evidently, Cheryl and I had come to his house for Christmas to sing our music for his friends. He had invited everyone over for some holiday cheer and we were the entertainment. He heard that we might be in town, so he decided to call first thing in the morning to check it out. It turns out that we are not going to be in town over the holidays, but maybe sometime in January. We would at least be passing through, and could maybe stop in for some of his belated holiday cheer.
You have to understand, that Roger was without a doubt, the most influential person in my life growing up. His talent, style and humor ignited a spark in me that has continued to burn brighter as the years have passed. He was the one who showed me the way into a world of creativity, and a different way of seeing. He showed me every day that it was not only possible to be different, but that it was preferable. I will forever be indebted to him for that.
After I hung up, I decided to go for a long walk in the early morning rain, where I could let the sound of his voice soak in a bit more. I didn’t want to overthink it, but rather, just let the feeling of what just happened speak to me. Water glancing off of my umbrella created a mesmerizing backdrop as I effortlessly wandered around through the years. How much everything has changed!—or has it really?
An hour later, as I walked up the front steps to the house, I realized that even as the horses, kids, art classes, calligraphy, music and funny stories have rolled by, there is a core that remains unchanged. I could imagine Roger as a little boy with the same drive and personality (and deep desire to create bad jokes). At the same time, I could see that inner part of myself as well—the True Self—that has also never really changed. That part of me that continues to seek creative expression and meaning—to make a difference in the world.
So, why did Roger really call me at 7:00 am this morning?
For me it was one of those special gifts: a holiday package wrapped in curiously funny words and endearing one liners like only Roger can deliver. Underneath all of the waving of arms and drama I found a simple little mirror—reminding me of who I really am, and always have been!
Note: In the photo, I’m the one in the middle who looks like a little toad. You might also enjoy our story and music about those family phone calls.