Playing it forward

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

It wasn't expected. He just up and died. 

One day he was happily walking the Earth with the rest of us, the next he was gone. I barely knew him and don't know the back-story, just that it happened at home, where he lived alone, and that he left an accordion. I know that because it's mine now. 

The deceased and I shared only one thing in common — the same elderly accordion teacher, who was hit hard by the loss. Out of respect for his student and friend of more than 40 years, he wanted the instrument to go where it would be properly valued and cared for. Most of all, he just wanted someone to keep playing it, which I rather flippantly agreed to do.

But that promise became unexpectedly sacred the first time I lifted the accordion into position, put fingers to keys and started the bellows breathing again. 

I don't play well, to say the least, but even through my fumbling ineptitude, the power of the moment hit with all the subtlety of a cartoon anvil falling from the sky. To continue in my life what death interrupted in his is a sobering honor indeed.  

For those in the world of long-term care, though, my epiphany probably doesn't seem so startling,  because you rediscover it every day. 

Over the years, I've talked to dozens of you about your deepest motivations, and am convinced your service to the living is primarily driven by a desire to honor the memory of those who have already passed from your care. 

With the weight of that commitment comes an implicit understanding that your mantle will one day be taken up by others, when the tables turn and the caregiver becomes the cared for.

As heart-wrenching human stories end and others take their place, you are an inspiring link in an eternal chain of homage and respect. The accordion is in your hands. Thanks for playing it forward.


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