(This is the serial release of my book Hello, My Name is Phillip. It is available on Amazon here. Search for “Phillip’s Story” on this blog site to find the other chapters. Phillip’s world is expanding with more and more people touched by his music. In this chapter we come to the long-awaited concert.)
The first date set by Pastor Elaine and the lady for a concert at the Presbyterian Church was cancelled due to the freezing rain. School was cancelled as well for two weeks. Then we got pelted with snow, followed by more freezing temperatures. Skye loved the world in white and bounced, leaping from one set of holes to another. He sank through the crusty surface right down into the powder. He was fun to watch. Driving the car was impossible for a while. Everything was on lock down.
For several days, me, Skye, the lady, and the man were home. The lady still did some of her work on the computer. We got into reading The Magician’s Nephew. I practiced piano while the man sat on the couch to listen. He sat there; tears rolled down his cheeks. I still didn’t know what to do with this new “man with the car.” But I knew one thing: I liked the change. The man and I played with Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys, which he never did before. Several times, he made calls to his counselor and talked for an hour or so. He sometimes looked like he used to, but just for a second. Maybe he counted now, like I did to not feel the black. It seemed like the old look came and then passed like the sun coming out from behind a dark cloud.
We made fun meals. One night, pizza—I got to build my own! Another night, we ate pancakes with all the toppings. Then, spaghetti and meatballs, soup with homemade bread, and tonight the man will barbecue hamburgers in the freezing cold. Last night at dinner, the man with the car got to talking about what he had been experiencing in his counseling sessions with Dr. Pearson.
“One session, Dr. Pearson asked me about my toughest childhood experience. And one came to mind, immediately. It was when those tough kids bullied me and beat me up when I was in 4th grade. But when I began to talk about it, it reminded me of another, earlier memory. This one felt connected by the same feeling of fear and shame.
“The memory was when I was in first grade in Mrs. Bartholomew’s class. She was a really scary teacher for me. I don’t know what she was really like, and perhaps she felt differently about us and life than it seemed, but to me, she always felt angry. One day in class, I took my paper forward to her desk. It felt like a long, long walk. Everyone was quiet, working on their spelling words. When I got to her desk, I asked her, quietly, to help me. ‘How do I spell wheat?’ I asked her because I was stumped. She looked at me and then said to everyone, loudly in the quiet room: ‘Class? Michael here does not know how to spell wheat. Would you all help him out? Let’s spell it out loud.’ I stood there and wished I could sink into the floor. Flooded with embarrassment and shame, I listened as they all recited the word. ‘W. H. E. A. T,’ and then giggled afterwards. It is a word I’ll never forget how to spell.
“When that memory came back, I sat in Dr. P.’s office and sobbed. I felt silly for crying about it, but at the same time was feeling such deep pain. After I had felt the pain, and looked up, Dr. P. asked if I would like to look for Jesus in the memory. I did. He then led me in prayer, and I relived the memory. This time, Jesus walked with me.”
I stopped eating. His story caught me.
“The whole time Jesus’ hand on my shoulder. And he stood beside me as I asked for help. And then, as the whole class got involved and recited the spelling of wheat, he knelt in front of me, and said, ‘Just look into my eyes.’ And as I did this, the sound of their voices dimmed, and the shame I felt couldn’t cling; all I saw was His immense love for me. Even as I am describing this to you, I remember the feelings I had first had, but cannot feel them anymore. I remember it was hard, but now it is like looking at a picture in a photo album. It is a photo of an incident. Jesus stood there saying, ‘Do not be marked by shame. Be filled with My love for you.’”
This man with the car was transforming. He had experienced Jesus like I had. And had experienced this more than once.
“What a beautiful experience, Michael,” the lady responded. She clasped his hand.
As he finished speaking, I looked at him and decided then, he was okay. I was not ready to change his name in my head. But he was actually becoming different and I guess you might say my trust in him was growing.
After days, the sun came out and people could get back on the road. The man with the car worked weekends again and could go back and forth to his groups. The lady resumed more of her schedule. I got to return to school for the week prior to Christmas break. Kevin met me every day at the car and walked me to class, his arm slung over my shoulder. He didn’t have to, but he did. There were so many other kids who liked me and noticed me now.
After the assembly, I got kind of famous. Kids before just thought I was retarded, I think. But afterward, I’d hear kids whispering, pointing, “There’s that kid who played the assembly. He’s got special powers. He communicates through music. You were there, right?” And more kids talked to me. I couldn’t say anything back, but it didn’t matter anyway. They just needed to tell me what their experience was when Jesus was walking through the assembly. Nothing like a little music to change a place.
Mrs. Olson planned Christmas projects for us for take home. We made Christmas trees pasted on paper. We strung Cheerios and cranberries to make garlands. Skye loved this one and must have eaten a full box of Cheerios from the floor. We also made garlands of cut-out, linked paper dolls. Me, Susanna, and Julie created Christmas cards for our friends and family. I made one for the lady and man, for Nana and Papa, for Grandpa and Grandma, and for Aunt Sarah and Uncle Max. I made another for Molly. My cards were all the same. On the front I pasted a cut-out Christmas tree and then pasted on the ornaments, put on garlands of string and tinsel. The cards weighed plenty with all that glue. Then on the inside, I copied the message Mrs. Olson had on the board, ‘Merry Christmas! Enjoy the moments! And Have a Happy New Year!’ I made hearts all over the inside with markers.
Today is Saturday, the first official day of Winter Break. And tonight is the second attempt for the concert at the church. Pastor Elaine put up flyers all over town when she could finally get out. I am playing at six pm. Maggie and I have worked up a music list for Christmas Concert pieces. I’m even playing a few sing-along carols. I’m excited. The man with the car took the night off. This week, every single day, kids from school have been coming up and saying something like, “I’ve been telling my family about you and about the concert. They are coming!”
Last week, after Sunday School, Pastor Elaine had me come play a song on the piano as part of the end of worship. As a teaser, she said, to help people know it was worth coming. Many had heard me play last Christmas, but others didn’t know I played at all. And in Sunday School Class, Miss Jeanne said all of us needed to plan to come hear me play. So, I’m expecting a full house. The lady is excited. This morning after breakfast, the man had to head out to work. The lady and I shared chores. Me and Skye vacuumed. He barked the whole time. It made me laugh. She worked on the bathrooms and the kitchen floor. Once that was done, she did some work and I practiced and then played for a while. It is nearly time for dinner. The man with the car is coming here and then we are going together in his car to the concert.
He arrives, kisses the lady hello, gives me a high five and runs upstairs for a shower and to change. I look at the lady and smile.
“I agree, Phillip,” she says, reading my thoughts, “I like the new daddy too.”
I keep chopping up veggies for salad and she works at the stove. The new daddy. These two have been “the lady and the man” my whole life. I don’t recall a time I thought about them as “mom and dad.” Before, I never could even imagine saying those words. The yelling, the pain, the memories even from when I was inside the lady of all the bad things happening, these chased away mom and dad. But then, when I was five, Jesus said they were in my life for a purpose. Now, more than ever, I see them applauding me, encouraging me, laughing with me, and reading stories to me. The man has changed into someone who is not scary. He’s training hard to change, like he said. The lady has been softening ever since my fifth birthday. I admit, I am beginning to like them and being with them. I never thought it possible. It’s true, like Pastor Elaine said, every kid deserves a good home. Maybe I’m finally getting one.
After we eat, we all get in the man’s car and head to the church, leaving the porch light on. Skye takes up his post next to me in the back seat. I think back to the last time we were all in the man’s car together—that was on my fifth birthday, driving to church, before the accident, before I ran away, before Maggie and Henry, before the new man came on the scene. Last time, it had been ugly. Tonight, the car is filled with laughter.
The man continues a story about his workday. “And then Susan was setting up the apple display for the front of the store. She steps back and one of the apples must have wedged itself loose, for, no sooner does she step back to admire the pyramid she had made, then the whole thing rolls off the stand and she is standing in a sea of red apples.”
“What did you do?” asks the lady.
“I laughed. She was so surprised, and it happened so suddenly, I just started cracking up. And then you know what she did?”
“She took a bow and then just threw her hands into the air and began to dance in the apples. She sashayed one direction and spun another, all with apples around her feet. By then, all of us took notice and were clapping in time to her imaginary beat. It was great. Then, we all pitched in to help her clean up, and we rebuilt the pyramid with her.”
“I’m thinking, the previous Michael would not have laughed,” the lady says.
“Totally true. I would have gotten mad. Everything led to anger. And I’m in charge of the evening employees and would have yelled or something. It would have totally charged the atmosphere with darkness.”
“Phillip and I like the new you,” the lady tells him.
He smiles. “You do?” He caught my eyes in the rearview mirror and I gave him a thumbs up.
“Yes. We do.”
He squeezes her hand.
At the church, Mr. Clay had just pulled in ahead of us, and saw us arrive. He walks over to greet us. “Michael! Dorothy! Phillip!” he calls to us. The man hops out and shakes Mr. Clay’s hand and then gives a surprised Mr. Clay a big hug.
“You look like a new man,” Mr. Clay tells the man.
“I have not had a chance to catch up with you recently,” the man says. “I think that is true. I am grateful for everything. You and the Session gave me a chance to begin again out of your kindness and my life changed. I’ve changed. Dorothy and Phillip were just affirming the changes on the way here tonight.”
“Phillip?” says Mr. Clay.
“Well, he gave me a thumbs up! It’s a start!” the man laughs.
“I agree with them,” Mr. Clay says. “I sense something new and rich in your heart. I have never seen you like this. What I used to sense was a man tied in knots who tried to act like everything was fine. But we all knew it was not fine. But tonight, you are brand new.”
They hug again. And Mr. Clay holds on as the man feels emotion. It’s the first time the man has been back to the church for five months.
“Phillip, how about you and Skye and I get out,” the lady says. We start to, the guys finish their hug, and then the man and Mr. Clay join us as we walk up the sidewalk, and up the six stairs into the church. Pastor Elaine was there near the door and greets us warmly.
“Phillip! Dorothy! Welcome! And you must be Michael. It is really good to meet you,” Pastor Elaine says to the man, shaking his hand. “Hello, Bill,” she says to Mr. Clay, shaking his hand too.
“Dorothy!” says Sarah, my mom’s friend from church. She gives the lady a hug.
Sarah is a wide person and a great hugger. She’s one of the kindest people I know. She never got mad about us wrecking her car either. She came to the hospital to see us three times, and said, each time, “I’m just glad you both are okay.” She cried every time! “I just couldn’t believe this happened. I felt so bad about it, like I was the drunk who hit you!” She really was thankful we survived.
She gives me a hug tonight, and I feel like I’m wrapped in one of those bubble suits. You know, the kind that you can run up against other people and bounce off? Kevin had some of those at his last birthday party when he turned nine in early October. They were so fun. His party was at an indoor gym. We put on those suits and then ran and jumped into each other and bounced off. So, tonight, her arms go around me, and I totally disappear, wrapped up in the suit and then am released. It makes me sigh a happy kind of sigh.
Kevin comes over. “Dude! We are all here,” he says. “Come see!”
I glance at the lady and she says, “Go ahead!”
I follow Kevin into the sanctuary which is already half filled with people. In three rows are kids from the school, from all kinds of grades and their families.
Susan waves and Julie shouts, “Phillip! Look, my whole family is here. Everyone this is Phillip. He sits in front of me in class. Phillip this is my mom and dad and big brother Frederick.” They wave.
Miss Jeanne is there with her husband and everyone from Sunday School is there with their families too.
Kevin turns me another way and points, his arm slung over my shoulder, “Look! Mrs. Olson and her husband. Mrs. Scott, the principal, and her son Tom, he’s in my class. Mr. Simons, and over there are four guys from my grade.” All these friends.
Then, I see Peggy. She is sitting in the back. Same oily black hair, but she has a different dress on, and she smiles when she sees me. She looks happy. It does not look like anyone else is with her. I drag Kevin to her. She looks surprised. I wave.
“Hi Phillip. Hey. Thanks for coming to say hey.”
“Hey, Peggy,” Kevin says. “How are you?”
“Doing good,” she says. “I told Phillip at the assembly during his music I met Jesus. There are no other words for what happened. Suddenly, I was enveloped with love. Anyway, Phillip’s music changed my world. I’ve started walking to a little church that is near to where I live, was baptized the end of November, and well, it’s like the lights have gone on. I was wrong to be a bully, so I want you to know, I’m sorry, and I’ve changed.”
“Cool,” Kevin says. “I didn’t know, and that is so totally awesome. I forgive you. Thanks for telling me.”
“Well, sure,” she says. “Thanks, Phillip, for coming over. It means a lot to me.”
Pastor Elaine comes to find me and says, “It’s time for you to come up in front and then when the last folk are seated you can begin. Okay?”
Me and Skye follow her, and Kevin takes his seat with his parents.
The church fills to capacity, both the balcony and the lower section. More arrive and stand along the back wall and along the sides. Some people find chairs and are seated in the entry area.
Pastor Elaine stands and says, “I want to welcome you to this unique opportunity. Phillip, we are blessed to have you play tonight. I first heard Phillip play at a school assembly on November 1st, All Saints’ Day, and it was an assembly unlike anything I have experienced in my life. With Phillip’s music, Jesus moves right into town. It matters not what songs are played, Jesus comes with light and vision and transformation. How many here were present at the assembly?”
Lots of hands go up.
“How many saw visions of a beautiful garden, waterfall, and river?”
The same hands.
“Well, you know what I am talking about then. Tonight, Phillip’s teacher, Maggie O’Neil, told me that Phillip has arranged to play an hour’s program. We will divide it into two parts and have a short intermission in the middle. He also will play a series of carols, and Maggie says we are welcome to sing along. I want to thank Michelle’s Pianos who brought this Steinway Baby Grand as a gift for tonight. The owner’s daughter teaches at Phillip’s school, heard we were to have Phillip play, and had her dad call to offer the piano. Never have I received that kind of phone call before!” Everyone laughs at this.
Then she continues, “I can promise you this would beat the spinet we had as an alternative. Let’s give a round of applause for Michelle’s Pianos.”
The place erupts in applause.
“Please join me in prayer,” Pastor Elaine says. And she prays.
I sit at the piano and look out at the packed house. Skye sits on the floor next to me. Maggie and Henry, their friend Laura, Dr. Tyler and his wife Melinda and their three sons are sitting on the front pew. The oldest waves at me. I wave back. Nana and Papa are in Mexico, so they couldn’t be here. They stay there for the winter every year. They always close up their house here and leave after Thanksgiving.
“Phillip, we are all yours,” Pastor Elaine says to me. I begin.
During the first half of the program, I open with “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen Op 65 No. 6” by Edvard Grieg, then play “Ava Maria,” a medley of Christmas worship songs, and close the first half with “Toccata in C, Op. 7” by Robert Schumann. I love to play fast pieces. And love how the colors dance in the room. Music takes us places. I see another meadow scene tonight as I play. There’s a meandering stream through the middle of the meadow, birds in the trees and sky, and deer by the stream. And I experience Jesus standing behind me at the piano with His hand on my left shoulder. Joy pulses through me. I cannot read what is happening for anyone else, for His presence so envelops me. As I finish the last piece Jesus whispers just before I stand up and take a bow, “Trust me. You don’t have to be afraid.”
I’m not afraid and wonder why Jesus is telling me this. The people clap and clap. Then Pastor Elaine invites people to take a 20-minute intermission, “There are refreshments in the Fireside Room,” she tells the people.
“Wow. Godbumps!” Julie says coming up to me. “How can you play like that? Truly, you are incredible, Phillip. I’ve never heard music like yours. And I have heard music. But the way you play! I cannot get over it. What did you think?” she asks Susan, who had walked up.
“It was just like the assembly tonight, Phillip!” she shouts. “Awesome!”
“You say so many words with your music, Phillip. Even though you can’t talk, you have lots to say. Tonight, I felt like I was in a hot tub. No, seriously! You know the feeling to be in an outdoor hot tub on a cold, crisp night? It is like being wrapped in the warmth and movement of the water. That’s what it was like for me, the music wrapped me, filled me, and soothed me. It was like you know, so joyful.”
“Hey, come on, get some cookies!” shouts Kevin from the back of the sanctuary. We go to join him and the others in the Fireside Room, which has never had a fire in the fireplace in my memory, but still it is called by the name Fireside.
Kevin slings his arm over my shoulder, “Hey, dude, that was incredible! What I can’t get over is how your music paints pictures for me and creates experiences. I’ve heard piano concerts before, and they were beautiful music and all, but nothing like what happens when you play. I go someplace. Tonight, it was like I was floating on a raft at sea, because I could feel the swells rising and falling beneath me. It was so peaceful. My mom cried the whole time. She told me at intermission, ‘Your friend is incredibly talented. I’ve never had this kind of experience before in my life.’ Crazy, dude, right? Here’s the cookie table.”
I grab a couple chocolate crinkle cookies. You know the kind? They are those chocolate cookies that are rolled in sugar before they are baked. And they are the best cookies ever. Maggie made those with me and the lady a couple times. Now the lady makes them at our house too. As I take a bite, I think Maggie must have made these. They are that good.
Kevin has grabbed his mom and is dragging her across the room.
“Mom, meet Phillip and his buddy Skye.”
“It is good to meet you, Phillip,” squeaks this towering woman. Her voice sounds pinched, but her smile is genuine. I notice her light blue eyes with flecks of lavender in them behind her glasses. They sit crookedly on her large nose. The frames for her glasses sparkle with the small diamond-looking stones set across the eyepiece. Her handshake crushes my hand. Seeing her, I realize how Kevin got so big. She’s a giant.
“I want you to know,” she continues. “This already has been the best concert I have ever been to and it was strange, but it was more than music. You talk through your music, but also the music speaks. I haven’t done much with church—Kevin is much more connected than I will ever be—but tonight, in my heart I had this longing to be in this building more, to come worship here. I don’t know what to attribute that to except the music.
“I have always encouraged Kevin to come. He started wanting to come when he was five! We had driven past the building a bunch of times and every time he would kind of reach out toward it as we drove past. So, finally, I brought him, and then he began to just walk down on his own. We don’t live far from here.” She pointed a direction with her bone crushing hand. “But I’ve never thought of myself as especially religious. Tonight, it struck me that maybe church isn’t even about being religious. Maybe church is about connection to God and other people who are seeking the same connection. I haven’t thought like that before, so the only thing I can attribute it to is what happens through your music. So, I just wanted to thank you.”
I smile and give her a high five, stroking Skye. One thing I don’t like is being the center of attention. Maybe when Jesus whispered, “You don’t need to be afraid,” He was reminding me of these times when people are around and making me the center of attention. I don’t need to fear these times. Okay Jesus.
“No, no, seriously, you have to meet him,” I hear Julie saying loudly to someone as she comes across the room, dragging someone who I now see must be her mom. The woman shaped something like Nana, kind of wide, but is very kind looking. Her eyes are brown and gentle. She flushes as Julie introduces her to me.
“Phillip, this is my mom. Mom meet Phillip. He sits right in front of me in class!”
“I’ve heard so much about you,” says the woman in a voice as gentle as her eyes. “My name is Evelyn McScott — you can call me Evelyn. Oh,” she says catching herself. “right, you don’t speak. Well, I’m still Evelyn to you.”
I laugh with her. She is so sweet. She reminds me of Miss Jeanne and Nana rolled into a new person.
She shakes my hand. Her handshake is soft and gentle. “Julie started to talk about you the first day home from school as ‘the boy who cannot speak but is the smartest boy in our class,’ and she has not stopped talking about you. After the assembly she began to say you speak with more words than anyone else uses in the school. Ever since she found out you were to perform tonight, she has been on us to get here. So, it’s an extra-large pleasure to meet you. And I agree, you use so many words. I never have gone to concerts before. There’s just not much music in the family, I suppose. But tonight,”— here she stopped talking, her lips quivered— “tonight, I guess, the words are…tonight I felt like I had come home. Our family has not gone much to church, but tonight it was like I heard God speaking to me, in my heart, saying, ‘Come Home.’”
She grabs a napkin from the dessert table, where I still am standing with my two uneaten cookies in my left hand. Dabbing her eyes, and blowing her nose, she continues. “Thank you for tonight Phillip. You are changing many people’s lives.”
Susanna drags her parents over, as do Timmy and Nemo. People keep talking to me and about what they experienced when I played. I stand there, nearly wanting to look around for who they must be talking about. It seems impossible that this is me. “You don’t have to be afraid,” I hear in my heart. In this room filled with people, it is just the reminder I need.
The lights flicker and I hear Pastor Elaine’s voice above the din, “Five minutes. Five minutes until Phillip starts playing again.”
Man, I haven’t eaten my cookies yet. I stuff them into my mouth, grab a napkin and a cup of water, and head back toward the door.
Everyone enters, sits down and gets quiet. I take my place and Pastor Elaine welcomes everyone back and has me begin. I start with a sing-along Christmas Carol time, everyone joins in. Then, turn up the power with Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C Sharp Minor.” The scene appears before me. Magnificent mountains, snow, trees, birds flying through the air. Then I play two Chopin preludes, and move on from picture to picture as I play some jazz pieces, playing Kevin’s favorite, Rhapsody in Blue. I look up to see they are all standing when I finish, clapping and clapping and clapping. Kevin begins to shout from where he and his family are standing, “Encore! Encore!” and is joined by the whole place.
Pastor Elaine comes to me and says, “Well, do you have anything else to play?”
I smile and nod. She signals everyone to be seated and I sit again at the piano, a big smile on my face. I almost play the “Hallelujah Chorus,” remembering how I played it for the encore at the assembly. But then, decide to play something to picture the deep beauty of this night, the healing I have experienced. So, I play “O Holy Night.” I begin softly and allow it to build and build as a scene unfolds, mountain grandeur, birds flying above, a stream below. I glance out over the people and see the man with the car. His face is wet with tears. I wonder if he is remembering what happened, the fight, the pain at the house after I played this song last Christmas. Tonight his face is filled with light and peace as he cries. Sometimes it is good to revisit old hurts and find healing. While holding the lady’s hand, he stands up with her while I play. Others follow suit until everyone is standing. They stand beneath the mountains the music has created.
As I play, someone starts to sing and soon it seems everyone has joined in singing the last chorus with some hitting the high notes. The voices are magnificent sounding over the piano as if angels have joined in.
As I finish, I glance up and see faces shining with tears. And I receive their thunderous applause.
Many, many thank me and hug me and talk to me. Kevin runs up and gives me a big hug. “You are the best, Phillip! The best! My dad’s here now. Mom says we have to go. See you tomorrow!”
But I will never see Kevin again.