She entered my door way—all 5’11” of her— with a hair-do straight out of 1955. She was 40 years my senior and at first blush, with her looming presence and infectious cackle, I thought Julia Child had come to visit! But she wasn’t there to teach me how to debone a chicken.
I had invited her in for her first piano lesson. Having recently opened my studio she had contacted me to say she had longed to learn to play since she was a child. My 19-year-old self was amused, but ever the optimist (!) Marilyn and I set out on our journey to explore the world of ivories, together. However, over time, the student became the teacher.
A teen-age mom, and estranged from my own mother, at the time I lacked the emotional, intellectual and spiritual inventory required to deal with a childhood often punctuated by the side effects of mental illness and addiction. Over months of weekly lessons, sensing something was amiss, Marilyn gently prodded to learn my story.
And that’s when I had my first encounter with tender-hearted mercy.
An encounter of a different kind—one of compassion rooted in a shared experience; a conversation with someone who could say, “I understand” (and truly understand). Because of our mirrored histories Marilyn didn’t pity me or judge me. Instead, she challenged me. Imploring me to not allow my past to dictate my future, she gave me books to enlighten me and wisdom to broaden my perspective. She offered me friendship to demonstrate I was valued and she inspired me to recognize and pursue every possible avenue to reach my full potential. I failed to deliver Marilyn to the stage of Carnegie Hall but that woman rescued me from a lifetime of victim-thinking.
All around us are people, young and old, with whom we share a difficult experience. Don’t let yours be for naught. Your wisdom and insight could make a world of difference and change the trajectory of someone's life.
Tender-hearted mercy. It's truly a close encounter of a different kind.