Jul 26, 2012 0 Share

Music of the Heart

Gondolier on canal in Venice.

“Willie, someone wants to say hello to you!” my mom called out. I smiled, anticipating a conversation with him. That day, my mom and I had been discussing various dietary and lifestyle changes that might help to support Willie (a heavy topic of conversation even on a good day). Though we contribute as best we can to Willie's health and well-being, looking into new protocols and therapies can be overwhelming at times. We have to continually remind ourselves to start small and be sensitive, to keep the process as peaceful as possible. 

As I was considering the implications of possible new therapies, Willie came on the line. His first words (“Hi, Caroline!”) were spoken in as only a younger brother could, in a tone of voice that was mostly cheerfulness at having received my call with just a touch of “Oh-gosh-it's-my-older-sibling-calling-again” thrown in. I laughed. My mom hadn't told him who was on the phone, but clearly he was catching on to my pattern of calling on Thursday afternoons. “Hi, Willie! How are you?” 

We went through our usual questions, and he told me a few select details of his day. He'd gone to the store with our dad and practiced piano … and, with a little prompt from our mom, he also told me that he'd be playing a piece on the piano for the congregation of my mom's church on Sunday, during the offering. 

“You will?!” I exclaimed. “Willie, that's great! That's so brave. That's something that a hero would do.” I said this remembering that my parents and Willie have an ongoing dialogue about what a “hero” would do, versus what a “villain” would do. It's a helpful way for Willie to conceptualize what constitutes positive and negative behavior, and we use familiar characters from various beloved Disney films for points of reference.

“Yes,” he said, calmly. He didn't seem nervous at the prospect of performing.

“What piece will you be playing?” I asked.

“Umm … the barcarole!” he replied, with enthusiasm. (I looked up “barcarole” after our conversation, not knowing at first whether it was an artist or a type of song. In this case, Willie was referring to a piece of music composed by Chopin for solo piano, in a style called barcarole. “Barca” is the word for boat in Italian, and the style originates from folk songs sung by gondoliers in Venice. We've actually been to Venice as a family, and as such, I liked the idea of Willie playing such a melody.)

“Wow! Is the barcarole your favorite?”

“Yes, it is my favorite.” 

The conversation turned, and we chatted for a few moments more. Before we said goodbye, I asked him his recommendation on the best dog breed for my husband and me; with no hesitation, he said, “A Labrador Retriever!” Willie is brilliant at recalling specific details within subject areas that he loves, and he loves dogs. I had no doubt that, in making his recommendation, Willie was remembering previous conversations in which my husband had expressed his strong preference for yellow labs above all other dog breeds. He's a smart one, my brother. 

We said goodbye, and he passed the phone back to our mom. When she came on the line, I told her how happy I was that Willie was going to be able to play the piano and share his music with people at church. And then I asked, “If it's not too much trouble, could you call me on Sunday morning, when Willie's playing? I'd just love to hear a little bit of that barcarole.” 

“I'll do my best,” she promised, and there was a little silence there, an intake of breath that called to mind the words of Marisa de los Santos in her novel “Belong to Me.” And when I thought of those beautiful lines, I couldn't help but adapt them for that moment between my mother and me: “And even though neither of us moved, even though the same [distance] that had separated us seconds before still lay between us, we were suddenly right next to each other, inches apart, bumping elbows in the same small boat of loving ...” 

The same small barca, that is.