Music: The Universal Language

Years ago, I traveled to Chicago with a team of colleagues for a conference. One of my buddies was on the trip, and we agreed to bring our instruments so we could play if time were available in the evening. He is a guitarist, and I was focusing on the mandolin at the time. Time for us to play together during a typical week was tough to come by, as we were busy with work and kids and all of life’s responsibilities before meeting up with our buddies to play music.

We did find one evening to play during the conference. We even worked in a final session as we arrived at the airport a couple of hours before departure. Aaron and I found an out-of-the-way corner and spent time working on a couple of songs. Not long after, a youth orchestra filed in front of us—adolescent musicians on their way to an event carrying various instruments.  Judging by the quality of the cases holding those instruments, this was an orchestra of advanced quality. Several young players took videos of Aaron and me as they walked by. We will never know if and where those clips landed on a social media platform. I want to think they may have…

Towards the end of our time, Aaron and I were cranking down on a tune, and out of the corner of my eye, I witnessed an older couple traveling with someone who I imagined was their son.  As they walked through our field of vision, the son headed south in our direction. As he walked by, he went in for a high five, which I returned in rhythm with the song.

It was a heartwarming scene. I did not know this young man. He did not know me. My buddy Aaron leaned over and said, “those are your people.” He wasn’t wrong.

The part I’ve left off this retelling is that the young man was an individual with Downs Syndrome. I would have delivered the same high five to any who happened by. Still, the universe provided me with a special moment—a shared experience with a total stranger who happened to have a disability.

I’m fortunate to share most of my life with people with disabilities. But to have the same sort of interaction outside the Special Education bubble or the Target bubble is not as commonplace.

There isn’t much I will not interrupt to exchange a high five. I think of this each morning in the lobby of Target’s office as the high fives and fist bumps are exchanged among our friends. I am grateful for my experience and my commitment to work towards a day when those same high fives are encountered chiefly in public spaces.