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bagpiper-120wiWhy do some stories stick in our mind? Over a decade ago, a bagpiper I met at a wedding told me this tale, which I’ll re-tell in his voice: “I play at gatherings as varied as parades and resorts at sunset. Last winter a kind friend of mine who is a funeral director, asked me to play at a graveside service for a homeless man he used to smile at each day on the way to work. He could not find any family members or friends to attend.  A mutual friend of ours, a minister, had kindly agreed to provide a simple service for the man at a pauper’s cemetery in rural Kentucky.

I agreed to play yet I was not familiar with the backwoods. Driving out to the service I got lost and harried, looking for signs. I finally arrived an hour late. The minister had already left it.

Only the backhoe driver and the gravediggers remained. They were quietly eating lunch.  I felt badly and apologized to them for my tardiness. Yet I was resolved to honor this man in his death, thinking of the many forgotten people like him who had no one to acknowledge their life at the end.

I got out my bagpipes, walked to the side of the fresh grave and looked down.  The vault lid was already in place.  I paused, looked up at the sky, then held up my bagpipes and began to play.

After a few minutes of playing I glanced over and noticed that the workers had put down their lunches and were listening. Suddenly I felt the numinosity of this moment, a connection with this man and all those who are alone in their passing, so I played with all my heart.

Two songs later I started Amazing Grace, letting myself scan the countryside. That’s when I saw the diggers were quietly weeping.  Soon, so was I. When I finished, I quietly packed up my bagpipes and started walking back to my car, feeling much more at peace with the world.

As I opened my car door I heard one of the workers exclaim, “Sweet Mother of Jesus, I never felt nothin’ like that before and I’ve been digging graves for twenty-two years.”

Lesson: Telling a story with an unexpected twist (and we have all experienced them) may stick in others’ minds so much that they can’t help sharing it with others.

moving from me to we


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