The World Health Organization has just declared that we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. That’s way too big a concept for me to wrap my brain around and I can feel the tentacles of denial slip-sliding across the wavy stuff in my mind.

Then today, it got real.

My ukulele group, The CC Strummers, is one of many classes offered by The Culver City Senior Center. This morning word came down from on high that this bustling nexus of activity will close indefinitely and all the classes are cancelled.

Just when The CC Strummers need our weekly dose of “music therapy” more than ever, poof, it’s gone. Of course, they—the city officials and fire department—are acting out of an abundance of caution. The folks who hang at the Senior Center are…well…seniors. And if we believe the news about the Coronavirus, older folks are especially vulnerable. Above all we want to keep our rental-bodies healthy.

But what about our hearts? What about the “intangibles” that bring and bind us together in community? That give us comfort and a sense of belonging, especially during this time of stunning uncertainty. How do you “cancel” that?

So on this day, as the stock market continues its dramatic descent and the talking heads predict that the worst is yet to come, a team of CC Strummers and I carpool to UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital to sing for the kids and give ukuleles away.

In my experience, music therapy is a mutual blessing, for the giver and receiver. We sing for kids and families and teach some parents how to strum Row Row Row Your Boat. But today, what strikes me the most is how desperately we need to feel okay right now, reassured that goodness exists and that it flows abundantly from a heart that is cracked open, even just a little. A heart that is open to ALL the weather patterns in life.

After our rounds we grab the next elevator…going down. Like the Titanic. Here we are… A busy student, distracted visitor, weary staff, and now, us—six senior citizens—who suddenly and inexplicably break into song. In the time it takes to go from the 5th floor to the lobby we sing a quicky version of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Our fellow elevator mates stare wide-eyed at first, then begin to smile. I can feel how music kind of changes the subject. It pulls us out of our heads and into the here and now. People wake up. For a moment… One young woman exclaims “you have made my day.” The whole elevator ride is something of a miracle, if you ask me.

Back in the 1990’s, country singer Kathy Mattea recorded a song called Standing Knee Deep in a River and Dying of Thirst. Here are some of the lyrics:

So the sidewalk is crowded, the city goes by.
And I rush through another day.
And a world full of strangers turn their eyes to me.
But I just look the other way.

They roll by just like water.
And I guess we never learn.
Go through life parched and empty.
Standing knee deep in a river and dying of thirst.

Seven people holding ukuleles at a hospital building
Left to right: Bill, Linda, Keith, Michael, Barbara, Jenna B. (the music therapist) and Cali.

Today at Mattel, we don’t look the other way. We do what we do. We witness the power of music to quench the thirst of those around us. To sate our own. I guess what I am saying is that there are a thousand little moments in the day when we can choose to smile at a stranger, hold the door open for a harried mother, we can pull our ukulele out of its case and play. And sing.

The scary virus is too big for me to comprehend, the chaos in the world is overwhelming. The level of deception and lies and nasty trolling boggles my mind. But there is something I can do, in the trenches of my everyday life. Be kind and offer someone a drink of water. Enough for two.

During our drive to UCLA, we commiserate about the run on toilet paper at the local Costco. I mean, what else is there to talk about? Bill, who grew up in rural Northern California, describes his formative years when the family shared the outhouse in the backyard. Toilet paper? That’s for babies. They kept an old Sears Catalogue at the ready and tore off a sheet. As needed.

Please CLICK HERE to visit The CC Strummers Facebook Page and view our Carpool Ukulele and videos of this visit.
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The CC Strummers just had our last class.  For a while…  We ended with “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”  Featuring ukuleles and kazoos.  CLICK HERE to watch.

And dear ones, take care of yourselves…