Psalm 100:1 “Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord”
I had my monthly oncologist appointment this morning. There are days I don’t mind going and days that I do. Today was one of the latter. Before I left, I took a few moments and said a prayer for a good visit, good labs, and for God to please bring peace to my heart and to calm my nerves. I felt better after I prayed and hoped that everything was going to be okay. I didn’t know how … but I trusted that God was going to make it happen.
Waking up to rainy weather and driving into the overly crowded parking lot did not help as we arrived at the cancer center. Still, I walked through the automatic doors, passed the outpatient center and snack shop, and walked back to the elevator. I waited for the doors to open and pressed the number 5 with my finger wrapped inside the sleeve of my shirt. (As a cancer patient who has to be overly aware of germs, that is how I do it.) The elevator took us up to the fifth floor and then I turned toward the UPMC Cancer Center. As many times as I had opened that door, I walked through it with a bit of denial. It had been almost 4 years since I first crossed that threshold but I still felt like it wasn’t real. I walked up to the reception desk and signed in. As I grabbed a pen and scribbled my name and arrival time on the paper, I heard an unfamiliar sound coming from the waiting room. I couldn’t attend to it because the receptionist had to verify insurance information and whether or not I needed a copay. Once I finished with her, I turned to find a seat.
It was then that I realized from where that noise was coming. Sitting in a chair at the back of the waiting room was an older gentleman wearing a hat, a beard, and a warm smile – and he was holding a kazoo. He was in the middle of singing “Home on the Range”. A group of patients and family members were smiling and singing along. Then, he sang a happy rendition of “A Bicycle Built for Two”. The senior of his audience members requested “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” and he most eagerly obliged. He began the melody with the kazoo and led everyone through more verses of that song than I knew existed. As that song winded down, one of the patients was called back to the lab. She stood up, visibly reluctant to leave the show, thanked him, and went back for her treatment. As the others looked at him in anticipation, he pulled a harmonica out of his pocket and began to play the melody to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”. Everyone listened as their faces lit up when they recognized the tune and started singing along. Sadly, that song was interrupted when the nurses called our performer’s name to go back for his appointment. He made a comment about how the music was over, put away his harmonica, grabbed his walker with both hands, and walked away. The disappointment in the faces of his newfound chorus was evident but they thanked him for playing and then went back to their books and magazines.
Now, I can assure you that going to the oncologist’s office was not what anyone in that room wanted to do when they got up this morning. All of them would have chosen to be anywhere but in that room, waiting to be poked and prodded, or their veins filled with drugs. No one of them expected to have a good time as they were riding that elevator up to the fifth floor .. but no one expected this joyful sing-a-long either. It was the most moving sight. This happy man, a patient himself, playing a kazoo, directing cancer patients and their families in song transformed the cancer center waiting room into a concert hall and the patients into his captive audience. For a second, they weren’t thinking about why they were there or what they were waiting to do. They were all joined in song, led by this lovely man, this pied piper with a kazoo, being carried away to another time and another place. For a few moments, until their names were called, they were able to forget the pain, the suffering and they were able to forget about cancer. What a wonderful thing that man was doing for all those people and he was full of joy as he did it. I was so blessed and honored to witness this scene this morning. That blessing was not lost on me.
A few moments later, my name was called as well and I went back to have my blood drawn. I talked to Caroline, one of my favorite nurses. She is a spunky, short-haired woman with a big smile. She is also the only nurse that can find one of my chemo-damaged veins on the first try. I so appreciate her for that. She told me about the man with the kazoo and that he enjoyed playing as much as the patients enjoyed listening and that his performances brightened the day of the nurses too. I told her about what I had just seen in the waiting room. It sounded like he was a regular fixture at the cancer center but one I had never had the pleasure of seeing.
After Caroline put a bandage on my arm and I gathered my things to leave the lab room, I saw the man with the kazoo sitting in the back waiting area. I could have walked on by but it was on my heart to talk to him. His name was John and he was absolutely lovely. He told me he had been asked to sing before but some told him that he couldn’t mention his religion or his faith. He said he couldn’t do that so he declined. He explained that he had pre-cancer and his bloodwork was checked regularly. He had to get injections to regulate it. By the Grace of God, he was still doing well. He told me about how dementia patients who can’t remember a loved one’s name can still remember a melody from long ago. He got out his harmonica and played few notes of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Jesus Loves Me”. I talked to him for a few minutes. He asked me where I lived and where I went to church. He told me about his family. We had a delightful conversation and then he thanked me for taking the time to meet him. I told him that I appreciated watching and listening to him. I wished him well, said ‘goodbye’, and walked back to the main waiting room where it was quiet… but I still heard the echo of John’s music as I sat down to wait for my name to be called again.
As I drove home, I thought about how God works. I was nervous about my appointment this morning. For some reason, I was feeling more anxious than usual. Even those of us they call “lifers” can get a little apprehensive on appointment day. I thought about how I prayed for a good visit and asked God to calm my nerves and bring peace to my heart that morning before I left the house. When we pray and ask God to help us, we don’t know how God is going to answer our prayers. Do we expect Him to wave his hand and make it all better? Do we expect Him to answer our prayers the way that we would answer them? I’m not sure. I don’t know if we really think about it. I just know that today, I asked God to calm my nerves and bring me peace. God answered my prayers — and He did so in a way I would have never expected — He blessed me with the opportunity to meet a wonderful man who brings joy to others. He blessed me by allowing the music that John shared to soothe my soul and bring peace to my heart. Remember, there are no accidents. There are no coincidences. God works in mysterious ways .. and today, He used one of his soldiers to answer my prayers – an amazing man named John, who carries a kazoo in his pocket and a song in his heart. Thank you, God. Thank you, John. May God bless you as you blessed me.