Sheltered Gems


Often, when a homeless person comes into the Upper Valley Haven, he or she comes with the clothes they are wearing and possibly a few personal things. This winter, a young boy brought along a seemingly insignificant item. But, in a setting of safety and sharing, it was discovered that he actually had something extremely precious. Read on to see just how priceless it was….

(Written by a Haven Shelter guest)

She stood at the mirror untangling her dark hair and gazed expressionlessly at the long silver strands that seemed to have appeared overnight. She had not realized that there were so many grays mixed in with the deep ebony. It only confirmed in her mind that she was a “senior citizen”. She was not sure what that was supposed to mean. She did not feel old, and she certainly did not anticipate, at her age, that she would end up homeless and in a shelter.

As she put things away in her room and made her new temporary bed, she quietly pondered her situation. “At least it is a safe, warm place,” she thought. “I wonder how long I will end up being here. What will it take to get back on my feet?” The future seemed dismal. “Will I have to go to a place for old people?” she worried.

As she fluffed up her pillow, she noticed her hands, weathered and wrinkled. “I have old hands, but they’re still strong,” she halfheartedly affirmed herself. “I know they are, but are my hands, at my age, even useful anymore?” She shook her head to displace the thoughts. Rather than banter back and forth with her own thinking, she decided to finish making her bed and change into her pajamas. A good night’s sleep was something she had been lacking for quite a while.

A week or so later, on one particularly cold, wintery evening, a family showed up at the shelter needing a place to stay. It was a family with a mother and three children. As with many families, or people who come into shelters, they often arrive with only the clothes on their backs and maybe some personal items important to them. For one member of this family, there was one such article.

He stood close to his mother and sisters. He was a rather rounded framed boy with sandy blonde hair, and he held his precious artifact firmly under his arm–a small but rather tattered looking electronic keyboard. He seemed anxious as a shelter staff member asked him about it. He was quite concerned that he would not be able to bring the keyboard in with him. “Will they even let me play it here?” he thought. The staff member eased his mind, letting him know that he could bring it in. His mother assured the staff member that he would not play late at night or be loud and disturbing to others.

As the family was settling in, the mom shared how she did not really know where he got is ability for playing. “He seems to just be a natural,” she proudly stated, “and he has never had any lessons. He can hear songs only a few times and then play them.” While listening to the mother, the shelter staff member thought about the woman over at the adult shelter. She used to be a music teacher. Maybe she could help this young boy.

During the next few days, two of the staff members got together and approached the woman at the adult shelter. They told her about the boy at the family shelter and wondered if she would be interested in giving him some lessons, or at least helping him out a little. The woman was certainly interested but wanted to make sure that, in fact, the boy wanted her help. She also wondered if the mother really wanted it, too. Did she even want her son to have lessons?

The staff members confirmed that all parties were interested. Between communicating back and forth, they set up a time, one evening, for the boy and the woman to meet in an unoccupied office in the main building.
There was much anticipation and concern from both parties. She wondered if he really wanted her help. Besides, it had been years since she taught piano or even played, for that matter. How was she going to remember things to teach him? What kind of music does he like?

He was equally worried about his situation. Questions pounded in his head. Will this lady want to change the way I play? Is she going to think I am not very smart because I cannot read music? Will she really understand? I do not even know if I play that well.

They sat down together and the mother was invited to stay and listen. The boy set up his keyboard and the woman asked him to tell her about his music. He told her about how, for some reason, he always liked music and seemed to be able to play by ear all kinds of pieces, as he put it. Then, he shyly stated with eyes cast down, “But I don’t know how to read music.” She gently smiled and assured him that was not a problem. Then she asked, “Would you play something for me?”

“Well, I have this new piece,” he meekly answered. “It kind of goes like this.” He nervously placed his hands on the keys. With slightly slumped shoulders, he began to play. It only took moments of listening for the woman to realize that what she was hearing was far beyond anything she could have imagined. She knew, without a doubt, that this child had an extraordinary gift! Like a diamond, undiscovered. She wondered if he himself even knew how special he was. She asked him more about his music. He played different genres, varied styles. The more he shared, the more relaxed he became. Then, finally, she asked, “What can I do for you?”

“Well, I have this one piece that I can’t quite seem to get the right chord, or I’m not sure if I should use a different one.” He played it partially through and paused at the chord in question. Then he stated, “I mean, I don’t know. It sounds ok, but it is the right one?” She nodded and said, “You have a great ear and an intuitive sense about music. In this particular instance, it is the perfect chord for this progression. Let me explain why.” And, so, it began.

In a dialogue of a language that knows no boundaries, they conversed in a way that they both understood. Weathered and wrinkled hands became soft, firm instruments gliding across the keys like silk. Her words, smooth and encouraging explained more. Though intricate and complicated, the boy had no trouble understanding. He soaked up every morsel. His eyes and stature became more confident and strong. He, in turn, played more and seemed to instantaneously grasp what she was telling him. The thought of this new adventure excited him. The communication between the two became its own orchestration of understanding, concept, and creativity.

The hour was late and it was time for young children to be in bed. They arranged to meet again to continue their adventure. The woman left, and a very proud mother tucked her son into bed. He could hardly contain himself. As he tried to settle down, he laid his head on his pillow. Ideas of different kinds of music raced through his mind. He was weaving in his thoughts new strands of sound, new approaches of playing. He drifted off to sleep with sweet melodies.

Across the parking lot, a single light from a bedroom window was softly shining. It glowed late into the night as the woman sat on her bed writing, planning, and creating different strategies for helping her new student. She was pleased, and amazed, that she had remembered so much from a long time ago. She had not forgotten, after all.

For the woman and the boy, their adventure became a story of finding hope in the least likely of circumstances. They were each like precious gems hidden away. In a time and place where both never expected to find such joy, wisdom poured out and passion rose up to become a symphony of sharing and learning at the Upper Valley Haven.

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