Every so often, we might discover that we had made a difference in someone’s life but never knew it. I’m not talking about family and friends, but some human being out of the past who wasn’t particularly meaningful to you, but you were meaningful to him or her.
Such was the case three years ago, when a man in his mid forties attended one of my book talks at a West Florida library. He approached me after, not for a book, but to hug. At first I was taken aback, because he looked me somewhat adoringly, directly in the eyes. Then, he said, “Thank you. You don’t remember me, but when I was a teenager, thirty years ago, I was into drugs, crime and bad company, heading for a lot of trouble. You read me the riot act. It scared me so, I never forgot it. That’s why I joined the Navy and got my life in order. It would not have happened if not for you.”
More recently, I was summoned to a hospital room to play violin music for a dying 78 year-old woman. Since 1980, Earline had been the mother-in-law of my now-deceased friend. More than twenty years ago, I had played the violin during a gathering at his home. Earline was there. Nice lady. I didn’t know her very well.
In her final days, consumed with cancer, she had asked her daughter, Bobbie, (my friend’s wife), “Do you think Marshall Frank would come and play ‘Sunrise Sunset’ for me on his violin?”
Well, there’s a first for everything, even at 71.
I strolled through the lobby of Melbourne’s Holmes General Hospital, right past security, carrying a violin case (of all things), found my way to room 732A where I was greeted by Bobbie and a room full of grieving family. Emaciated now, Earline was seemingly half-unconscious, a breathing apparatus attached, mouth agape, gasping her final breaths.
They told me how Earline would often talk about me, especially my violin and my writings. Who would have known? Amid a room of bursting tears, I opened the case, lifted the fiddle and started “Sunrise Sunset.” I had to look out the window, or I’d have been caught up in the depth of emotion. It was important to play it…slowly, and well.
Bobbie and her daughter, Bridget (granddaughter), leaned over to embrace the woman. I could see her jaw move, ever so slightly. After, Bridget said she actually heard her grandmother vocalize part of the tune, every so weakly… “Is this the little girl I carried…Sunrise … Sunset…” Amazingly, she had heard the music. It was all so worth the moment.
She passed away later that same night. I left with the comfort of knowing that Earline was conscious enough to hear that loving tune from “Fiddler On The Roof,” and that it made a difference in her life, and in her death.
On the way home, thoughts raged. I reflected on my own background. Who were the long lost people that made some small or large difference in my life? I don’t mean family or friend. But, some remote figure from the deepest recesses of the past, who unknowingly altered my direction in some way.
A 10th grade history teacher named Mr. Tierney, who made a boring subject come alive, sparking my interest in history for the rest of my life.
A 7th grade bully named Stanley, who led a gathering of kids to beat me up after school, for folly. All because I danced and played violin. From that day on, I obsessed on fitting in, no matter what the cost to my future.
At age 10, meeting Jascha Heifetz in person, listening to his advice, “Practice!” So, I did.
Beatrice Laverne, owner of a Miami dance studio, who was the only person who came to my house to offer solace after my mother’s long struggle with cancer ended. She filled a huge void that day, one I will never forget. She taught me to be there when someone is in need. Don’t assume someone else is doing it.
1966. A cop named Richard. He single-handedly changed police work for me, from a job into a career. I never even knew Richard, then the Chief of Detectives, other than reputation. But he knew me, and had faith enough to place me into the prestigious Homicide Bureau ahead of other aspiring applicants. Earlier that same week, disenchanted with wearing a badge for a living, I had already drafted my resignation, aiming toward a return to a career in music. Instead, the police career lasted 30 years, and today I enjoy a healthy pension — all because a man named Richard liked me.
That’s just a few.
Now it’s your turn. What irony can you share about remote people from your past who made a significant difference in your life, though they may never have known it?
Maybe it’s time?