One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had during my ArtistYear at Jefferson Hospital was this past February, when I played for a gentleman on the oncology floor. As I walked into the man’s room and began playing for him, it was clear he was absolutely enthralled by the music. He couldn’t get enough; I played for him for over an hour and he still wanted to hear more.
After I finished playing, he shared with me that he was suffering from stage IV stomach cancer. Despite the immense pain he was in, my music had brought him a feeling of relief. As he looked out the window at the snow falling heavily outside, the man began telling me how deeply concerned he was for the homeless in Philadelphia who didn’t have shelter from the storm. As I listened, he shared with me how fortunate he felt that he had a warm place to take refuge from the freezing temperatures outside. Even with his advanced cancer, this gentleman still considered himself to be one of the luckiest people on the planet. At least he wasn’t a child with cancer, he said, or a homeless person in a blizzard. Even though he was sick, he had shelter from the storm, a kind nurse had taken him for a walk down the hallway earlier that day, and now he had his “very own personal harpist” (his words, not mine). This was a man who chose to see his cup as half full, not half empty. Instead of focusing on his terminal cancer, he was thankful for what he did have.
This encounter happened at a time in my personal life where I was struggling and upset with the cards that had been dealt to me. I was viewing my cup as half empty, not half full. I remember the exact moment when the gentleman with stage IV stomach cancer looked me directly in the eye and told me how lucky he felt. It truly put my problems in perspective and had a profound impact on me.
In day-to-day life, it’s easy to take for granted all the luxuries I’m used to – a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and loving family and friends. I was fortunate enough to be born into a middle-class family, and growing up I never had to sleep on the streets or go without food. It’s easy to forget how lucky one is. While we are taught to constantly strive for more and realize our own value in this world, I think it’s important to take a step back every now and then and appreciate the gifts we have. There is so much to be thankful for. My time as an ArtistYear Fellow has taught me many things, but above all it has given me the perspective to live my life with gratitude and thanks.