Many years ago, while staying at a five-star hotel where I was to give a keynote address, I went down to the restaurant to grab a sandwich. It was about 8:00 p.m., and I wanted to give myself a few minutes to relax, read more about the organization I was speaking to and plan my next day.
An Oldie But a Goodie
Much to my surprise and enjoyment, there was a featured entertainer who was singing a selection of songs she had once made popular. I remembered her from my teenage years, and at one time she commanded large audiences, appeared in a few B movies and had even made it to a show called American Bandstand.
The hotel lounge was busy but hardly packed. Most were there either by happenstance (for the conference and trade show) or for purely nostalgic reasons. She was at least in her early 70s. Her outfit, a sparkling, silvery gown, was perhaps a bit too curvaceous and daring for a woman her age, but she carried herself with dignity and professionalism. In addition to the songs she made famous, she sang some old ballads that were sweet and sentimental. Her voice had suffered and cracked a bit over the years, but her phrasing and maturity were beautiful.
Please let me explain. By “maturity,” I am not referring to her physical age, but to the wisdom, emotion and even pathos that can come with being at an age where the words connect in a way that evokes deeper feelings. Despite the fact that a good percentage of people in the lounge were not even born when she was in her heyday, she commanded the room.
As a keynote speaker, I am always impressed when anyone can take command of a stage, let alone a singer who had been out of the upper echelons of music for many, many years. How was she able to do this, I wondered? Then I realized she was not alone.
The Piano Player
The piano player, almost invisible in his presence behind the glitter and lighting, was about her age. He was dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and dark tie so as to make himself even more subdued. He was her complement. I am not a musician, and I know a musician could explain this better from a musical perspective, but he seemed to know where and when she and the lyrics “needed help.” He knew where to pause, where to emphasize, when to go louder, softer or even when to cast an “inside” joke or two. I didn’t know if they were related or even friends. I do know that on stage he was her rock and her foundation. She obviously valued him, and he appreciated her.
It got me to thinking about this “ride” that we are all on, this journey of life and how we view our roles. Our culture wants us to believe we can be anything we imagine we can be and that we all have the same gifts. Even the youngest kid knows it’s not true. Despite the participation trophy given to every kid in a basketball tournament, the kids pretty much know the best player on the court.
The trick is to understand that we each have God-given talents. The singer’s accompanist probably couldn’t sing, but he could surely play. I doubt she was much of a piano player. The beauty was how they complemented one another.
Far too often, we are led to believe that there are greater and lesser, but we don’t understand that truer meaning. One person might have greater wealth or education than another, but it does not mean he or she is a greater person than another. Money, fame, education, a prestigious car or even a lavish house does not make a person better, more decent, kind or a caring person. We all have something to contribute to one another and to the world.
I remember the singer’s name, of course, but I do not remember the name of the piano player. Though her fame has faded, and her once good looks and voice have aged, the piano player brought everything back to life. They needed each other to make beautiful music.
Never diminish the significance of your role, for you may in fact be the light that makes others brightly shine. No general who was recognized for winning a battle achieved it without soldiers. There will always be someone who can’t see your worth. Don’t let it be you!