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Words by Raymond Greiner
Image by Gretchen Gales
Allegheny Heights is an affluent bedroom community near Philadelphia. The state of Pennsylvania is a renowned hub of football mania, and many historic great players have emerged from this geographic area. Allegheny Heights High School is no exception; football is the most prominent and popular sport. The football stadium is at capacity for Friday night games. The school has won multiple state championships over the years and this year is on track to again achieve this goal.
Much of the team’s success is because of their star running back’s record setting performances. Jerrod McNeil epitomized the mold of a great athlete, as if designed and created specifically for this sport. The fans display banner signs with Jerrod’s name. Jerrod is in his senior year and has broken every school record for yardage gained. Scholarship offers pour in from major colleges. Jerrod is also a stand out scholar, and the three military academies sought his presence.
American football has become a national passion sport, and dominates with unsurpassed fan base. Fans gather in great numbers and football occupies the pinnacle of professional sports.
Jerrod was among the most popular students socially stimulated from his football fame plus his handsome good looks, which stirred typical reaction from female students. His world is near perfection in every manner. To say Jerrod’s life is off to a good start is the classic understatement.
It’s mid season, and Allegheny Heights High School is undefeated. The Friday night game’s opposing team is among the best in the state and this game is crucial to remain in contention for the state championship. The home fans were doing their part, and each play chanted Jerrod’s name, hoping he would get the ball.
A short pass was thrown just over the line of scrimmage to Jerrod. As soon as the ball touched Jerrod’s hands two defensive linebackers hit him simultaneously. It was a brutal, double hit, from opposing directions, one striking high and the other low. Jerrod remained on the ground motionless. The coach ran onto the field and an ambulance was summoned.
Jerrod was hospitalized, and in a coma. Allegheny Heights lost the game. Team members and coaches visited Jerrod at the hospital. Jerrod’s parents followed the ambulance and were in the waiting room. It was a scene of intense despair and sadness. The doctor met with the group and told them at this point prognosis is impossible, and a series X-rays, tests and scans will be performed to determine degree of damage to Jerrod’s brain and possible spine injury.
Jerrod’s parents were in disbelief, devastated, and unable to converse coherently. Words didn’t appear, only emptiness and uncertainty in an emotional void of despair.
Cards and flowers filled Jerrod’s hospital room. Hundreds of posts appeared on his Facebook page in an overwhelming display of love. His parents Jim and Judy were at the hospital each day. Jerrod’s parents were of the highest quality. Jim was a bank president and Judy was a clinical psychologist.
Jerrod showed no sign of improvement as two weeks passed and he was kept alive artificially with IVs and a ventilator. His condition lingered. Brain scans revealed less damage than was anticipated and the general medical opinions were if he heals enough to escape his comatose state therapy could offer hopeful improvement.
One of the many get-well greeting cards was addressed to Jerrod’s parents from one of his classmates. The messaged said, “Dear Mr. and Mrs. McNeil: My name is Cynthia Meadows, and I’m one of Jerrod’s high school friends. I stand behind him in choir, and we often converse. Jerrod’s the most popular member of our class, and everyone loves him so much. I’m not considered, nor claim to be, one of the class beauties and I’ve never even attended one of school’s football games, but I know well of Jerrod’s achievements. I’m bused each day from the country where I live on my parent’s honey farm. I’m am a trained classical violinist studied from my earliest childhood, and hope to eventually gain a professional position in an orchestra. I’m aware this goal will not come quickly, or easily. In the meantime I perform often with my parent’s bluegrass band and enjoy bluegrass music also.
“I read a news story of an Olympic skier who suffered a terrible fall and was in a long lasting coma. A friend of this skier was a classical violinist and she visited her friend often and played soft classical pieces. Somehow this penetrated the skier’s brain and he awakened. What I propose is, if I can obtain permission from the hospital I will perform this effort at Jerrod’s bedside. It would seem to do no harm and may cause improvement opportunity to Jerrod’s challenge. Let me know what you think of this idea. Thank you, so much. Cynthia.”
Return message to Cynthia from Jerrod’s Mom, Judy, “Dear Cynthia: Jim and I were moved at your offer. I contacted the hospital’s administrator and received permission for you to play your violin at Jerrod’s bedside. It will certainly do no harm, and we’re willing to attempt anything to assist Jerrod.
“You’re welcome to visit anytime. We look forward to meeting you. Sincerely, Judy.”
Cynthia used her father’s car and drove to hospital. She felt a bit odd, but Jerrod was extraordinarily kind and friendly toward her, and they shared conversations. Most of the popular males ignored Cynthia, as the school’s designated beauty queens received most male social overtures. Cynthia is quite beautiful in an earthly manner. She presented herself unadorned and never wore makeup. Her dress choices were outside current vogue guidelines. Her tall, slender body and heart-melting smile often went unnoticed obscured by her taciturn demeanor. Cynthia is a dedicated musician encouraged by her parents who are accomplished musicians.
As Cynthia entered the visitor’s area carrying her violin case an attractive woman greeted her and introduced herself as Judy McNeil, Jerrod mother.
Judy said, “You must be Cynthia. I’m so pleased you’ve made this effort to offer something so special to Jerrod. Thank you for coming.”
Cynthia responded, “Nice to meet you, Mrs. McNeil. Jerrod and I were in choir together. He loves music, and it was enjoyable for me to share discussions with him. He’s very popular because of his football achievements. I’m probably the only student at Allegheny High School who’s never attended a football game. We live in the country ten miles from Allegheny Heights and I’ve never developed an interest in sports. All my life I’ve been devoted to music, influenced by my parents. I’m aware of Jerrod’s athletic success from interactions with fellow students. This injury is a devastating blow, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Jerrod and his challenge to recover. When I read the news article describing the injured skier’s recovery, and how music may have played a role it haunted me. I was compelled to play classical pieces for Jerrod, it may assist in some manner.”
Judy said, “I am overwhelmed by your thoughtfulness. You’re welcome anytime it’s possible for you to come.”
As Cynthia entered Jerrod’s room it was a heart wrenching sight. Jerrod had tubes of various sorts installed and the rhythmic sound of life support apparatuses added dismay. Jerrod lay motionless, with his wrists restrained to prevent spontaneous movement.
Judy took a chair near Jerrod and Cynthia sat a distance from Jerrod’s bed. She removed her violin from its case and began to play a beautiful classical piece.
Cynthia played her violin for nearly an hour. She stopped and told Judy she intends to visit every day and it may take time for results to appear. It could also prove futile but Cynthia was not one to give up easily.
For an entire month Cynthia visited Jerrod every day and played her music. One day Jerrod eyes blinked, and his fingers twitched. Cynthia summoned the nurse on duty and described this incident. The nurse called the doctor and he shined a flashlight into Jerrod’s eyes. Again Jerrod’s eyes twitched ever so slightly.
The doctor said, “This is an early sign, which commonly occurs when a patient is breaking their coma. It’s certainly a positive event.”
Cynthia returned the next day to continue her music. Judy was excited, and enjoyed listening to Cynthia’s violin. Then a miracle occurred. Jerrod’s eyes opened. The doctor was called and delighted expressing this as a positive indicator. Jerrod remained stationary staring blankly at the ceiling.
The doctor said, “Usually these first arousals, although encouraging, the patient often remains in a semi coma state. It’ll likely slowly develop to higher consciousness.”
Judy said, “I truly feel Cynthia’s music triggered Jerrod’s response. It’s known our subconscious brain waves react in odd and mysterious ways. Meditation and its history have proven this to be true. Jerrod may not be aware of the music but his subconscious mind heard it and responded.
“Cynthia, you’re an angel sent to save Jerrod, or at least I like to feel you are. I’m grateful beyond words.”
Cynthia said, “Jerrod’s popularity stems from his success as a football player. I admire Jerrod’s achievements too, but it goes beyond this surface. I’m rather on the opposite end of Jerrod’s status. I’ve never been a notable student. I’m not beauty queen material, and not particularly academic, although I maintain a reasonably good grade average. My music is unknown among classmates, it manifested from parental influence. Jerrod is special in ways beyond his athletic accomplishments and social identity. I became Jerrod’s friend for no reason other than Jerrod has a heart of gold. He made a special effort to befriend me, as others didn’t. Jerrod possesses a degree of compassion seldom revealed in present day society.
“When I was informed of Jerrod’s injury it tore my heart out, and I felt lost and helpless. I then read about the skier’s recovery attached to music and was stimulated to give back to Jerrod what he so graciously has given me.”
Judy’s eyes watered as she listened to Cynthia’s description of her son. She hugged Cynthia, and said, “Please come to our house this evening, share dinner, and meet my husband Jim. You’ll see where Jerrod experienced his formative years.”
The hospital called Judy and an appointment was made to meet with the neurologist to discuss Jerrod’s prognosis.
The next day Jim and Judy met with Dr. Snyder. He detailed Jerrod’s status. “Jerrod’s brain scan is better than anticipated, but he has spinal vertebrae damage. He’ll have difficulty speaking for a while, but it’s anticipated with proper therapy he’ll gain speaking normalcy. His spinal damage can be improved with surgery but he’ll never regain complete physical mobility, probably confined to a wheelchair, but this is not absolute until it’s revealed to what degree of improvement is possible from surgery combined with physical therapy. He may be able to use crutches or a walker; this will take time to evaluate. I know it’s difficult for everyone, especially Jerrod being a stand out athlete.”
Jim and Judy were saddened with this news, but it was not unexpected.
Cynthia continued her musical therapy routine and looked forward to each day. She was motivated to help Jerrod in any manner she was able.
Another week passed and Jerrod continued to stare blankly at the ceiling. Then Jerrod began to show response. He looked at Cynthia, gazed at her for a few minutes, as if trying to gain understanding of where he was and who Cynthia was, a questioning expression.
Cynthia stopped her music, looking at Jerrod, and said, “Jerrod, do you know who I am?”
Jerrod continued to stare, then suddenly a broad smile appeared on his face and shook his head yes. Cynthia could barely control tears of joy. It was a glorious moment for them both.
Judy was in the adjacent waiting room. Cynthia summoned her and the duty nurse. Judy spoke to Jerrod, and again Jerrod displayed his broad smile. Judy broke into tears and hugged Jerrod. The joy was overpowering.
Jerrod tried to speak, could not, but continued to smile. Cynthia said, “It’s time I play a happy tune to welcome Jerrod back to consciousness.” Cynthia switched from her classical music format to bluegrass and played the iconic bluegrass fiddle song “Orange Blossom Special”. Jerrod’s eyes sparkled and his smile broadened. They bathed in delight witnessing Jerrod’s reaction.
Over the next month Cynthia visited Jerrod less often and didn’t play music. Jerrod worked diligently with his speech and physical therapists. He could converse, but his words came slowly and broken. They discussed school and Judy brought Jerrod’s laptop computer and he showed no decline in mental capacity to read and communicate. Teachers corresponded with Jerrod and he reentered curricula through online access. He was joyful to get back to academics, and this will allow him to graduate with his class.
His walking had not progressed as well as his speech, but he was determined and worked hard with his therapist.
Jerrod’s football team members and coaches were frequent visitors, but the string of previous female admirers were no shows. Cynthia was the single female classmate to visit.
Jerrod was moved to a less intensive recovery facility but remained hospitalized to allow ease of access to therapy.
Jerrod opened his thoughts to Cynthia, “I think about what will become of me. I suppose I should be grateful to be alive. I’ve dedicated my life to football and it centered my life since I can remember. This is now a distant memory.”
Cynthia responded, “I can only imagine how you must feel. I’ve never been a sports fan or participant. My life is dissimilar to most students in our class. We live a simplistic lifestyle. My parents have designed their lives in opposition to the general structure and social standard presented among Allegheny Heights residents. Most are in a higher income bracket than my family. Our honey farm is work intensive, and doesn’t yield high personal income. The upside is it’s invigorating work, and connected to the natural function of bees extracting pollen from nature, and our farm offers spiritual overtones. It’s impossible to describe and must be experienced to gain this consciousness. Our home is a farmhouse built in 1910 creating an ongoing project to restore.
Our family bluegrass band brings additional income, but it’s minimal. It’s just great fun to attend bluegrass music festivals.”
Jerrod said, “If I gain mobility I’d enjoy visiting your honey farm. It sounds interesting from your description.”
Cynthia said, “It’s a nice place, peaceful, and I love living at our farm.”
Jerrod stayed on course with his therapy. He applied full effort and therapists expresses they had never experienced a patient with such determination. His legs were slow to respond but using his arm strength he was eventually able to walk very slowly assisted by a walker.
Jerrod returned home and Judy would drive him three days a week for therapy. He continued his high school classes using his computer and was on course to graduate with his class. Cynthia visited Jerrod twice each week and kept him up to date on various events at school.
Jerrod said, “Cynthia I miss our choir as much as I miss football. I love music.”
Cynthia responded, “I know you do, and you have excellent voice tone and range. This may be something to consider developing.”
“I want to advance to crutches as soon as I can. I’ll be able to move more efficiently and quicker.” Jerrod said
Jerrod moved to crutches and practiced diligently to gain efficient mobility.
During one of her visits with Jerrod Cynthia said, “Our family bluegrass band ‘The Bee Alive String Band’ will perform at a nearby Grange Hall. Can you attend our performance? I’ll drive you. It’s a trio, featuring my dad Roy playing the banjo, and my mom Mildred on the acoustical bass, and I’m the fiddle player. I think you’d enjoy our music. We sing bluegrass songs also.”
“Sure, I’d love it.” Jerrod said
Cynthia drove Jerrod to her home and introduced him to her parents, they were extremely friendly and kind hearted toward Jerrod, and they rode together to the Grange Hall. What a treat for Jerrod, he hadn’t felt this good since his injury. It was great fun, and they also had a square dance caller and members of the audience performed square dances. Jerrod had never seen a square dance and was fascinated to witness this event. The entire environment was in opposition to social outlets in and around Allegheny Heights. These were all rural, country folks, a social contrast from Allegheny Heights. The parking lot was filled with pick-up trucks and older cars.
As they returned home Mildred said, “Jerrod, I suggest you call your mom, and ask her if it’s alright for you to spend the night at our house. It’d be fun to share time and I’ll cook breakfast. Then Cynthia can drive you home. What do you think about this idea?”
“For sure, I’d enjoy it.” Jerrod said
Jerrod called Judy and explained everything; describing the fun it was listening to Cynthia’s family bluegrass band and watching the square dancers. Judy was happy to hear joyfulness in Jerrod’s voice and told Jerrod it is an opportunity for you to get to know Cynthia’s parents.
They stayed up late talking about things. Roy filled Jerrod in on their lives and how they ended up with their honey farm. He explained how he and Mildred met through their interest in music, and they drifted toward bluegrass. Mildred is also a music teacher. She teaches piano, guitar, violin and bass fiddle.
Jerrod would sleep in the spare room. After Cynthia’s parents retired Jerrod and Cynthia remained and continued conversing.
Cynthia said, “Jerrod, you’re moving well with your crutches, I’m feeling good about your therapeutic progress. Thanks for coming to our performance. I love to play bluegrass music, but my real passion is classical. After I became proficient at reading music I self taught myself classical pieces.”
Jerrod said, “I enjoy music in its many forms, each genre has its own revelation, and as one listens this penetrates and introduces its own unique signature. I like blues music and rock and roll, which is an offshoot of rhythm and blues. Its all-wonderful if we allow it opportunity. Classical music radiates a calming energy, and the dimension of classical music is pure and infinite. Your classical music awakened me from my coma. I’m spiritually connected to this music; it’ll be with me for the duration of my life. Music seems to convey a God like presence. I love to listen and watch you play your violin. I think you are beautiful.”
Cynthia’s blushed, was quiet, then said, “I don’t think I’m beautiful, especially compared to the many beautiful girls in our class. My family can’t afford to support fashion imagery. I don’t use makeup. Not sure why, it seems a bother more than a necessity. Allegheny Heights is an affluent community, and we are not affluent in a materialistic sense. My parents taught me wealth goes beyond things, fancy homes and money.”
Jerrod said, “The magnitude of kindness and effort you’ve applied to help me is rare and unusual, and this impacted me. However, as much as I appreciate your effort it’s your physical appearance that penetrates most. You’re definitely beautiful, and if you painted yourself up, and adorned your body with vogue fashionable clothing I’d still recognize the purity of your simplistic beauty. I’m in love with you, truly, and with all my heart.”
Cynthia became paralyzed. She was uncertain how to react. She has always loved Jerrod, and cherished the times he spoke to her at choir practice.
Jerrod hugged Cynthia, and their young hearts opened to the power of love as it overwhelmed them. They embraced in a kiss and the two seventeen-year-olds moved to a new dimension in their lives.
As promised Mildred prepared an exquisite breakfast. Mildred spoke to Jerrod. “Jerrod, I know you enjoy music and it occurred to me since football is no longer a presence maybe musical pursuits could serve as a replacement. I’m a music teacher and I’ll offer you my skills if you are interested. What do you think?”
Without hesitation Jerrod responded, “I need to do this, my football days are over, but I could learn to play an instrument and move in this direction as an alternative.”
Mildred said, “I think you should consider learning to play the acoustical bass. It’s a relatively simple instrument, and if you learn the chords you can play rhythm bass. You may consider bluegrass, and eventually gain enough proficiency to play with our band. I prefer guitar but the band needs the bass and if you develop this skill you can replace me, and I can move to the guitar, which is my favorite instrument. Cynthia said you have a splendid singing voice, and this is most welcome to our group. We’ll become a bluegrass quartet.”
Cynthia smiled at Jerrod, and said, “Jerrod, this could be so much fun. I know you would enjoy this pursuit; it fills the void you have been thrown into. I can’t think of anything I would enjoy more.”
So, Jerrod’s life made a sharp turn as his mind spun toward thoughts of this new purpose and direction, and football faded into a memory.
Judy and Jim were eager to help their son in any way possible. They purchased a bass violin from the local music store and Judy and Cynthia teamed up to transport Jerrod for weekly lessons with Mildred. Jerrod always becomes obsessed with anything he decided to pursue. His initial excitement was the trigger, and after a few lessons his natural obsessive character trait kicked in. He would practice for hours, using a tall stool but also stood as long has possible hoping to eventually increase his ability to stand for longer periods.
Mildred was impressed at Jerrod’s diligence and advanced her lessons accordingly.
Spring arrived, and with this came high school graduation. When Jerrod, on crutches, walked to the stage of the assembly hall the entire student body and faculty rose to their feet clapping and cheering. His football teammates unfurled a huge banner stating, “Jerrod is the greatest”. Tears formed in Jerrod’s eyes as he accepted his diploma. It was an unforgettable moment.
Cynthia met Jerrod as he exited the stage and hugged him with all her strength. Judy and Jim congratulated their son, as they beamed with pride.
Music took over Jerrod’s life, and dominated his being. He practiced his music for hours on end. His fingers were beginning to form a mind of their own as he advanced. He called Cynthia every day, and looked forward to his lessons so he could be near her. She was his strength, and his love for her continued to grow becoming a constant presence in his thoughts.
Jerrod developed enough to play rhythm with the band and began to rehearse with the group. Mildred shifted to her guitar and Jerrod advanced more quickly benefitting from these rehearsals. This experience gave Jerrod a sense of worth and belonging as he realized how wonderful his musical partners really were. Jerrod’s natural singing voice was the best of the quartet and they all recognized this. He was now able to stand for long periods and no longer used the stool to play the bass.
Roy’s observation, “Jerrod, you’re unaware of just how good your singing voice is. This adds a distinct quality of our presentation and I’m eager to debut your talent in our performances. In order for a bluegrass group to excel to its most potential quality voice applications are vital to achieve this position.”
The youth factor of Cynthia and Jerrod’s inclusion gave the quartet a unique flavor and attraction. As in all phases of life youth is a powerful influence. Cynthia and Jerrod prompted this power and energized the quartet. Combined with Roy and Mildred’s talents it came together revealing a special magnificence.
Jerrod was now included and joined his new friends on stage at various performances. The audience responded to a new level with Jerrod’s added voice and appearance. It tipped the scale to new heights. Bookings became more frequent and the quartet’s fan base expanded. The four musicians were euphoric over this new success.
Jerrod stayed over during rehearsals and Mildred and Cynthia prepared meals. Discussions arose during meals.
Mildred said, “I’ve communicated with the Philadelphia Orchestra for the past year to gain an audition for Cynthia. I sent videos of her playing classical and bluegrass music. Today I received message on my e-mail with a date for her to audition. I’m so excited about this opportunity. I’m a trained classical musician and influenced Cynthia to play this music. She’s an excellent reader of music and deserves this opportunity.”
Cynthia was overwhelmed at this news, and was unaware her Mom had pursued this for her. She smiled and hugged her Mom. Roy and Jerrod expressed joy and this event exuded a happy moment for everyone.
Mildred accompanied Cynthia to the orchestra’s audition. And a few days after the audition an e-mail message appeared and they selected Cynthia to join the orchestra’s rehearsals. Two from the violin section are retiring and they need replacements.
Cynthia was assigned the forth chair in the violin section. This event was unique mainly because Cynthia was so young, but her amazing talent was too great to be ignored.
The day of Cynthia’s debut arrived. In the morning of the night of the orchestra’s performance Cynthia was required to attend the orchestra’s preparation. Mildred drove her, and the orchestra had it’s own hairdressers and make up artists for female players. Mildred purchased a beautiful cocktail dress for Cynthia to wear at her debut performance.
Jim, Judy, Roy and Jerrod rode together for the evening presentation. Mildred greeted them with a smile. It was a wonderful evening.
When the orchestra entered Jerrod became flush with shock as he gazed at Cynthia. Her beauty was a mind boggling, and he almost didn’t recognize her. She looked magnificent. Her hair, make up, and beautiful dress combined and she shined like an angel.
As the performance commenced tears flowed down Mildred’s face as she witnessed a dream become reality. Jerrod stared at Cynthia during the entire performance. He was love struck to the limit.
The next day Jerrod called Cynthia, “Can you pick me up? I need to talk with you today.”
Cynthia arrived and Jerrod asked her if she could drive him to the football stadium. She did this, and the two sat together in the empty stadium.
Jerrod said, “Cynthia, you were so beautiful last night playing with such a grand orchestra. I feel so fortunate to have been in the audience.
“The reason I wanted to come to the stadium is to express to you my thoughts. When I played football and the crowd cheered loudly and it seemed like the pinnacle of my life. Those cheers made me feel so good. They are gone from my life now. It saddens me to some degree.
“When you were playing your violin last night I fell in love with you to an even higher degree. Your music awakened me from my coma, and last night your music awakened my heart to a level I could’ve never imagined.”
Cynthia looked quietly into Jerrod’s eyes. Then said, “Think of it like this, all those who cheered you during the grand times of your football years have you, and your accomplishments, firmly fixed in their memories. They are still cheering in their minds, and will continue as long as they live. The cheers are silent, but remain.”
The wedding was held at the honey farm, and the crowd was huge. The “Bee Alive String Band” played and square dancers showed up. Jim, Judy, Roy and Mildred had perpetual smiles on their faces. The path to the future would be shared in a grand fashion as Jerrod and Cynthia became immersed in love.
The voice of destiny sings in various rhythmic tones, often off key and out of tempo like a catbird singing in a thorn bush. Then the sky opens and darkness becomes light as clouds of doubt vanish.
3/27/2017 06:46:04 pm
This was written by a very compassionate writer. It totally kept my interest and also touched my heart deeply.
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