Last night Warren and I attended a talent show, an annual fundraiser put on to support our local developmental disabilities board. We did not realize until the show started that, except for three "guest" acts, all of the other acts, whether solo or group, were performed by individuals who were developmentally disabled. That made for some unexpected moments of both poignancy and hilarity, depending on the act and the performer.
The show theme was a World War II style USO show. The acts were unabashedly and enthusiastically patriotic. The audience clapped and cheered loudly for every singer, dancer, and actor. More than once I found myself swallowing around a large lump in my throat one moment, and then cheering loudly the next.
As we drove home, Warren and I discussed our favorite moments and I recounted several. Then I said, "no, there was one really special moment."
Partway through the first half, the next act listed was "God Bless America," to be performed by Mickey McNamara. Mickey, an older man of indeterminate age, came awkwardly onto the stage, a small accordion hanging from its strap around his neck. He smiled nervously, pumped the bellows once, and then played, not "God Bless America," but "O Beautiful." Laboring over the notes, he made it to the end and grinned at the applause. The emcee thanked him and we all waited for Mickey to leave the stage. Instead, he leaned over and said something to the emcee, who announced Mickey was playing an encore. The audience quieted down.
Mickey studied his accordion. He tried one chord, then tried another. He made a false start and frowned. He tried a different chord and must have heard something he liked. Mickey then started playing his encore piece.
It was hard to recognize the music at first. The tune was broken, the rhythm was irregular. There were missed notes which Mickey went back and replayed. But all the same, a rustle started in the crowd and many of us started stirring in our seats.
A few of us stood up, then a few more stood. Soon the whole audience was on its feet, singing along to Mickey's tune.
He was playing "The Star Spangled Banner."
Mickey never looked up from his hard work. He concentrated fiercely on the chords and notes, drawing the bellows out and pressing them back in to make the breathy tones of the accordion. He had no idea we were all standing, singing along to his erratic beat.
When he finished and the accordion went silent, Mickey finally looked up to see us all standing and applauding. He smiled - a great, face-splitting smile - and then left the stage.
We all applauded hard as he walked away. We clapped for our country, for our national anthem, and for Mickey, who passionately and seriously, to his own rhythm and tune, gave us one really special moment in a night full of special moments.