20 April - Humble Me

Several years ago, my trip to the Philippines connected many dots for me. After traveling 14 hours, my aunt and uncle from Milwaukee picked us up from the airport and took us to their home. In the mode of getting my bearings, unpacking and paying my respects to whomever else was in the dark house, they asked, “Are you ready? We are taking you to see a variety show and karaoke to sing.” Are you kidding? It was 11:30pm. Unshowered and always ready for exploration, I checked the bags under my eyes and went for a drive. Twas a bit strange to walk into a bar filled with “my people.” I sat, looked around, took note of any cultural subtleties -- from food on the menu to how one might hold a cocktail. The first act began. Teenagers acting like gang members came out on a makeshift stage and broke out into incredible dance moves reminiscent to Janet Jackson’s old videos like “Rhythm Nation” or the fly girls from “In Living Color.” My jaw dropped. Gorgeous men dressed as women with incredibly strong voices that matched Celine Dion. Such raw talent hidden in an anonymous bar tucked in an anonymous area of Manila. All I could think of was they probably had no clue how incredibly talented each one was. How easy success might come to these hopefuls who have no opportunity, if they were in the U.S. And thanks to Oprah and YouTube, we have witnessed the success of some of these hopefuls like teenager Charice Pempengco and 40-year-old Arnel Pineda, Journey’s frontman.

I thought of that experience and cultural affinity for music and dance while reflecting on this week, which indeed encompassed music. My week started with the humble Ray LaMontagne. A group of us saw him open for Guster at the Charter Pavilion in Chicago years ago. Here, he graced the beautiful Riverside stage with a very simple, classy setup. His velvet voice and arrangements were lullabies, one after the other. I also had project work scheduled with the talented, award-winning and dear friend Jim at Beathouse Music. It truly makes a difference when the producer creates a safe and comfortable working environment that encourages bringing out the best work (www.beathousemusic.com). Then came attending an outstanding theater-in-the-round production of “Joseph the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in Chicago. The Artistic Director is Milwaukeean and high school friend Aaron – had to support. Lastly, the week ended with band rehearsal for an upcoming gig at Shank Hall. It made sense that my set goal for this week was to take the inspiration and write a song from scratch, until I learned of something that humbled me.

In the midst of this week, I met my husband at the Four Seasons for a black tie function. The only detail I knew was I was going dressed in my vintage paisley Shanel Regier dress – knew not the organization, time, other co-workers attending, etc. When we arrived, we met several ladies from "Clearbrook." Straightaway, the vibe of this evening of heavy-hitters was very “salt-of-the-earth," my kind of people. I learned this non-profit serves 3,000 clients per year, from babies to adults. These clients have cerebral palsy, autism, downs syndrome and mental retardation. I learned the gadgets we were playing with atop the table in front of us were communicating mechanisms, helping children associate and express their needs to caregivers and friends. I learned those ready for independent living were housed in at least 20 homes equipped with transportation to and from the day program and work, and providing caregivers when necessary.

During dinner, the video we were shown featured four stories and separate struggles since birth. The parents were interviewed and shown interacting with their children. Not a dry eye in the house after a father described his feeling of defeat in providing any type of normalcy to his beloved son, an eternal four-year-old. Then, through Clearbrook, came his final glimmer of hope. We also learned three of the children featured were triplets. This particular family does have a fourth child, who has autism.

Parenting alone seems tough enough – from getting babies on a regular sleep pattern just so the parent can function; to emotionally investing, questioning personal convictions and self-esteem in order to mold another human being; then hurting when they hurt and watching them grow. I could not imagine the struggles of parenting four children with special needs. So I add on top of these, the anguish when he or she is struggling with something as simple as communicating and not knowing IF the child is hurting, nor the source. Then along comes a place like Clearbrook. In watching this video, these families looked like the happiest well-adjusted families, probably because this humbling situation demands genuine understanding and patience.

It was such a welcome experience amidst a busy week to be among families that pulled together through such emotional hardship. This must have been the stem of the humble vibe we sensed when we first arrived. My husband and I walked away with two things: an appreciation for our lives through witnessing other people's reality -- families that have gone from defeat to hope. The other, selfishly, was a flat screen tele. Winning a bid is a much more joyous occasion when the cause is priceless.

To find more information or donate to Clearbrook, please visit www.clearbrook.org.

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