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The Harp Lesson

Teachings of a CHild

by Hal Evan Caplan
December 4, 2010

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The Harp Lesson

     My teacher is my child and he is growing up so fast. He has taught me so many lessons in past lessons and I continue to learn from him on a regular basis. In the recent past, he became aware that I write about these lessons I learn from him and he doesn't really understand why I do this. I have told him, one day, he will be very happy to know what he has taught me in the past. After hearing this he just shakes his head as if to suggest that I was a weirdo for writing this stuff down in the first place. Actually, on past occasions, he has said that very thing... "Dad, you are such a weirdo for writing this stuff down in the first place". Even though he is unaware of the fact that he teaches me these lessons or simply reminds me of them, I am the student and he is my teacher. 

      We visit New York City several times a year. Some of the trips are to spend time with my Dad and Step-mom and one trip each year is geared towards family reunions on that side of the family. Needless to say, my teacher loves to visit New York City for any occasion. During one of our visits, my wife, my teacher and I had to catch the subway in order to get to our destination. We walked down a few blocks from the apartment and headed down to the subway platform to wait.
     As we stood on the subway platform, we noticed a man carrying an extremely large case walk past us. Based on the shape and size of the case, my wife and I began to guess what it could be. As we waited, the man put down the large case and leaned it against the wall. Then, he put his backpack on the ground beside the large case and proceeded to pull out a folding stool. He unfolded it and placed it on the ground. Then, he took out a small box from his backpack, opened it and placed it in front of him. Puzzled, my wife and I looked at each other as we were not quite sure what this man was doing. Originally we thought he was just going to board the next subway train, just as we were.
      To our amazement, he sat down on the small stool and began to reveal what was in the large case as he opened it. We saw that it was a beautiful musical instrument–a Harp to be exact. A beautiful gold colored, detailed wood inlayed Harp. The man propped up the Harp, sat down on the stool and placed the Harp into the proper playing position.
     My teacher just starred at the man, like a deer in headlights. He did not move, nor did he say word. I don't think that my teacher had ever seen a Harp before. I was not sure if he was starring because of the massive size of the instrument or because I expressed to my teacher that the man intended to play the massive musical instrument. Up to this point, he had only seen small sized instruments being played at the base of the subway platforms.
     Then, the man began to play... Wow, and I mean WOW! Once he began to strum the strings, I wasn't sure who fell into a deeper "trance"– me or my teacher, or my wife for that matter. The three of us just stood there with our jaws wide open. Luckily our jaws could not physically touch the ground because I was positive that I had road rash on the bottom of my chin.
      As he played, the man closed his eyes. Occasionally he opened them and smiled at the three of us as we were in his direct line of sight. I felt very lucky that the three of us got the opportunity to witness this. After a little while, I snapped out of my trance-like-state and looked around just to be sure we didn't miss the subway. We had not.
     My wife shook her head in awe and fished out a few dollars from her purse and handed the money to my teacher so he could walk over and place the money in the box the man had before him. My teacher smiled with delight at the opportunity to get closer to the situation. He walked over to where the man was playing and he placed the money gently at the bottom of the box, all the while looking up at the Harp. He then walked backwards towards my wife and me still in his trance-like-state. My teacher then tugged on my shirt indicating that he wanted to whisper in my ear. I bent down to his level, ready to listen.
     "Dad, now tha-a-a-a-t is amazing." He muttered.
     "Which part, the instrument or the sound of the instrument?" I asked.
     "Both things." He revealed.
     "What is it?" He inquired.
     "That instrument is called a Harp." I explained.
     "That is amazing." He repeated.
      "Yes it is." I agreed.
     "Dad, why did mom give me money to give to the man?" He questioned.
     "Well, that's because his music is so beautiful and mom appreciated it so much that she wanted to show the man by giving him some money." I revealed.
     He said nothing and just shook his head indicating that he understood as his eyes were still glued to the Harp. I honestly don't think that I have ever seen my teacher act like this. Even the White Tiger at the Birmingham Zoo didn't take his breath away like this man playing the Harp.
    "It's like we are in our own concert and the man is just playing for us." He announced.
     "Why would you say that?" I asked.
     "No one else is really watching." He pointed out.
     I looked around and he was right. It appeared that not one other person took notice of this man playing the beautiful music. I knew the crowd on the subway platform could obviously hear him, but they were not looking.
     "Why aren't they looking?" He asked.
     "I don't really know, I can't answer that." I expressed.
     "They are sure missing out." He grinned.
     "Yes, they are." I agreed.
     After the musician finished playing his song, a few people walked by and dropped change into the open box. Then the musician began to play another song. In the middle of this next song, one person walked by and tossed some change in the direction of the box. Only a few coins actually made it into the box and the rest scattered about. The people in the back ground just watched as the missed coins rolled around and fell to a stop. I shook my head in disbelief.
     "Why didn't that guy get all the money in the box?" He asked.
     "Maybe he was too lazy to do it right." I blurted out.
     "But why didn't he stop and pick it up and then put the money in box?" He questioned.
     "I really don't know." I responded.
     "That is ridiculous." He roared.
      What I didn't know at the time was that my teacher had begun the lesson that I was to learn. I didn't say another word to my teacher, mainly because I was a little taken by what had just occurred. He took it upon himself and walked over and collected all of the coins that missed and then he placed the coins in the box. The musician was in mid-song with his eyes closed and had no idea what my teacher had done.       
     "I am so proud of you for doing that." I expressed as I hugged him.
     "Well, that just wasn't fair to the man." He shouted as the platform was now packed and very noisy with people.
     "I agree with you and the reason I am so proud of you is because that was the right thing to do." I pointed out.
     "Why don't people pay more attention?" He questioned.
     "Again, I can't answer that question." I said.
     "Some people need to do a better job of that." He expressed.
     "I would have to agree with you on that one." I agreed.
     The subway train zoomed into position and came to a halt. My teacher waved to the man playing the Harp and we boarded the subway.
     In a nutshell, the lesson that I was reminded of that day was: It is a great feeling just to do the right thing for someone, even if the person didn't know you helped in the first place.

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Janet from Virginia writes:
December 15, 2010
I wish more people would comment on your wonderful articles. I love 'em. (I have your book - it's awesome.)

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Teachings of a Three Year Old... Turned Tyke
Published September 28, 2010

A father learns from the wisdom of his toddler.

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