Sunday, November 29, 2009

The remarkable gift of the flute

In a wonderful little book on old age called “Dancing towards the light” a former hospital chaplain and pastoral theologian reminds us that in caring for people, especially those who are ill, it is often the small, almost insignificant deeds of love that count most.

According to him one of the big frustrations for those who really want to give care and make a difference when a friend or family member falls critically ill, is the discovery that in certain circumstances so little can actually be said and done to relieve the pain or plight of the other. Then we should realise that just being there, close and available - handing a glass of water, or just holding a hand when the other becomes restless - is often enough, the strongest evidence of sincere love and support. In the words of the Dutch writer Cornelis Verhoefen: “When true things happen, no words are needed”

To illustrate what this can mean the author-chaplain recounts a moving incident he experienced one day while doing his rounds in a rehabilitation centre for people paralyzed by a stroke. He was almost at the end of his visit, moving through the last ward, when he heard an unfamiliar sound. Moving closer he discovered a patient in a remote corner who for many months had been lying in a coma. According to the doctors there was no hope of any recovery. On a chair close to his bed an attractive young woman wearing a sparkling red dress was sitting, softly playing a flute.

Responding to the questioning look on the chaplain’s face she pointed at the patient and explained. “He used to be the minister of our parish, someone with a deep love for music; and he especially liked the psalms. Given that he has so little left, I have decided to come here every day, just to play for him. I think he hears me”. And then with her voice faltering slightly, she added: “You see, he is my father and I am his only daughter. This is all I can do”.

Reading this very touching story I was deeply consoled. Because apart from realising that those who are helpless can often still hear and appreciate their loved ones and the gifts they bring, it was also clear that the daughter’s unique gift, the flowing and soothing sounds of the wonderful flute, was more than enough.

Carel Anthonissen

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