Move more. Stress Less. Eat good food. Great advice for living long and well. Then add the nourishment of what you love, of following your bliss, as mythologist Joseph Campbell urged.
Don Doane (my dad called him Donny), the professional trombone player who had suffered a stroke years before, called Dad and said, “I read the book Sue wrote about your cardiac crisis, re-hab, and how your music brought you alive. I’m playing again. Come see me Monday night. Come hear us.”
Dad said, “I’d love to.”
“Bring your horn,” Don insisted.
“Oh, no,” Dad said. “I haven’t played in the seven years since that cardiac crisis. I can’t.”
“Bring your horn,” Don repeated.
At the jazz club a week later, Dad sat with us, his family.
Don joined and said, “Look at me in this wheelchair. In rehab the first thing I did was put a mouthpiece on my lips. I couldn’t lose my music. I taught myself to play again. My left side is paralyzed so I rest the trombone on my knee… can’t use a slide. I use fingertaps. Wait ‘til you hear me.”
Don pulled up his sweater, “This strap here keeps me in my wheelchair when I start that swing as I play. If I can play, you can play.”
Dad pushed his 83-year-old body up from the table. His knees buckled. He limped. He said “I’ll only be able to play for fifteen minutes.”
Don took the microphone. “Let me introduce my good friend, Ray Lebel. He’s sitting in with us. We’ve played lots of gigs together.”
Dad lifted his newly-shined trumpet out of its tattered case, “from my Dad,” he winked. “From when he played in big bands in the 1920s. I never wanted to play a heavy instrument. I like carrying a small case. Tonight I can barely lift it. It feels like it weighs a ton.”
Don started to play “All of Me.” Dad hobbled to join the band, tapped his left toes a few feeble times, took the first deep breath since his open-heart surgery, wiggled his arthritic fingers over the valves and put his lips to the mouthpiece.
Dad became ten, maybe twenty, years younger, as if no joints ached, as if he had huge aerobic capacity. His fingers flew. His whole body kept beat. His horn sang. Loud. Clear. Strong.
Standing upright, he played trills, solos, and jammed with Don, “playing tag,” Don called it.
“All of me. Why not take all of me? Can’t you see. I’m no good without you.”
When All of Me ended, Dad beamed, held up his horn with his left arm, raised his right arm toward the sky. We expected him to sit. He didn’t. This “old man,” who for the past seven years had called himself “a cardiac patient,” pumped new blood, new oxygen, new circulation through his own veins and arteries and everyone else’s that night.
Dad walked to the wheelchair to thank Don, who bear-hugged him and said, “After my stroke I was in the hospital bed in a coma. I couldn’t move. Nothin’. I couldn’t talk. Not a word. But I could hear. I heard my wife and all my kids at the foot of the bed. The doctor was on one side and a minister on the other. I heard them say to my family, ‘Say good-bye to your father. He’s not gonna make it through the night.’ I didn’t like hearing that.”
Dad said, “You had a rough road back. Look how hard you worked and look at you now.”
Don said, “We’re tough ole birds.”
Dad bent over Don for one last hug. “Thanks for letting me play horn, old buddy. It was great. I’m beat but it was fun. I want to watch you again. Hear you again.”
“Sure,” Don said. “Under one condition.”
“Anything you say, Donny.”
“Bring your horn.”
Dad started, “Oh I don’t know if I can play again….”
With his functional hand, Don took a mouthpiece out of his pocket and slapped it into Dad’s palm. “Bring your horn.”
So, move more, stress less, eat good food and then, as civil rights leader Howard Thurman suggested, “Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”