I’ve joined the cult of people committed to walking 10,000 steps per day, every day (well, most days… you know), for exercise; to help preserve the health and fitness of my body as I age. On Saturday, September 15, I achieved my 8th successful 10,000-step day in a row, and 12th successful day in September, by walking across town to pick up a movie at a Redbox kiosk that wasn’t available at the one near our house. I walked through Drake Park along my way and removed my earbuds as music from the park was louder than Bruce Springsteen singing through my iPhone.
Bill Keale was on stage. Turns out St. Charles Medical Center was celebrating a century of offering health services here in Bend. The celebration was taking place just blocks from their first location downtown atop “hospital hill;” across the street from the old St. Francis church. I’ve heard Bill perform many times over the years and paused to take in the closing notes of Here Comes the Sun. I stood near a tree to listen to Abraham, Martin and John, and Morning Has Broken. Born in Hawaii to a family of musicians (including his cousin Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole), his voice and guitar are a beautiful and comforting gift to our community.
I walked on. When I returned to walk back through the park close to an hour later, Bill was still playing. I sat in the grass to take in the rest of his show. When he said, “I have one more for you,” he explained he had worked at St. Charles for the past 27 years. This is close to what he said…
“My first job was in shipping and receiving, but that job ended. I applied for another job in housekeeping. I loved that work, cleaning rooms for people in need. And I loved the other people I worked with in housekeeping. I’d play my guitar and sing for patients and my co-workers. They seemed to like it. Nobody else was singing for them, I guess.” Bill smiled. Over the years his work responsibilities changed and grew. He offered gratitude to the people who helped him along the way, supported his career. “One day my friends at the hospital presented me this gift, this guitar. They had it built special just for me. I love my family at St. Charles and this song is for them.”
This Old Guitar
He began to play John Denver’s This Old Guitar on his beautiful, handmade Breedlove…
This old guitar taught me to sing a love song
It showed me how to laugh and how to cry
It introduced me to some friends of mine
And brightened up some days
It helped me make it through some lonely nights
Oh, what a friend to have on a cold and lonely night
There weren’t a lot of people in attendance. Those of us who were received the blessing of Bill Keale’s gift; his music, his voice. Several of us offered Bill a standing ovation. I then walked up to the stage.
“Thank you,” I said.
“You’re welcome.” His smile beamed.
“Especially for your story about caring for people at the hospital. I talked with my cousin just yesterday. Her mom is in a care facility now. They had a hard time finding one that felt right; one where it felt like the people working there cared for their patients; loved them and hugged them, radiated community and love. Once they found the right place, it felt okay moving their mom in. Whether it’s hospitals or schools or workplaces, once we realize we’re here to care for each other, these places begin to work right.”
“That is so true. Thank you.”
We embraced. Others stood nearby wanting to talk with Bill. I turned to walk across the park toward home. I put in my earbuds and turned Bruce back on. I was listening to his concert at the New Orleans Jazz festival from 2006, one year after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. After taking in the blessing of Bill’s music, We Shall Overcome and When the Saints Go Marching In sounded just right as I completed another 10,000-step day.