January 2013

One of my most poignant memories is a visit with an old girlfriend who volunteered on a local pediatric ward. She'd visit the hospital and play games and tell stories and organize sing-alongs and so on. There were kids there with all sorts of ailments and injuries, and they loved the attention and activities, especially anything having to do with music, which seemed to energize them.

One of her favorites was a little boy named Jason, maybe 7 or 8 years old. 
His parents were wonderful people, very positive and loving. He had leukemia, had undergone multiple rounds of treatment and wasn't responding; he was dying. He loved to sing pretty much anything with a good melody. Pop songs, kid stuff, rock and roll-- he'd sing along, right in tune. He had a wonderful, voice. I heard him a few times when I went to meet my girlfriend for lunch.

Sometimes we'd sing with him. For a little guy, he could really belt out a tune. He'd grown tired of the few 45 RPM records he could listen to on his little player, and he asked my girlfriend if she might please bring him some new music he could listen to. She brought him 5 or 6 LP's-- stuff from home, an assortment of things, mostly up-tempo rock and roll stuff. He was thrilled.

I came to see her one afternoon, and she was in the patients' lounge, sobbing. A couple of nurses were with her, and they were also crying. "Oh, dammit", I thought; "Little Jason has probably died..."

"What's happened? Is it Jason?" I asked.
Almost in unison, they said "YES!"
"Oh, I'm so sorry. What a sweet kid he was..." I said.
She hiccupped, "He's... not... dead..."
"Um... then... ah... what's going on?" I asked. There was further sniffling 
and wiping of eyes.

She took me by the hand and led me down the hallway. As we approached Jason's room, I began to hear his clear, bell-like little voice. One of the tapes she'd brought him was The Band's "Music From Big Pink". She'd said that he'd play this one, particular song over and over again, because he liked to sing along with it so much. I listened a little more intently, and I immediately recognized Richard Manuel singing a plaintive Bob Dylan tune.

Jason's voice rang out warmly and strongly as he joined in on the chorus:
"I see my light come shining, from the west down to the east.
Any day now, any day now, I shall be released..."

When the record finished, Jason lifted the needle and placed it carefully at the beginning of the tune, and sang right through it again-- and again. I'm not sure he even realized exactly what he was singing, but he put his little heart and soul into it. She and I just stood there outside his room and hugged one another, sobbing. Jason died three days later. It's 40 years later and I can still hear him.

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