Still Gardner

by DanWolgemuth on October 12, 2018

The pre-dinner mingling began at 6PM. The Taylor University Board of Trustees had finished a full day of meetings and it was time for dinner with key members of the Administration. The agenda was simple and scripted. An opening prayer, a few remarks, a beautiful tribute to a 1951 Alum all leading to an 8PM adjournment.

As I entered the dining room, soft and creative tones echoing from a grand piano in the front corner of the room floated like a spring breeze. Unpretentious, but rich. Unannounced, but present… like a friend.

Fifteen minutes later we were seated. Introductions, instructions and an invocation followed. During this time, Gardner Stewart was identified as the pianist and polite applause followed… all from a noteworthy crowd. Lawyers, doctors, professionals, educators, and administrators. Polite applause.

While plates were being filled and coffee served… Gardner. Music filled the vacant space and seemed to frost every conversation with elegance and grace.

Then the program. Microphones. Interviews. Awards. Speeches.

With final instructions given for a few subsequent meetings and an agenda for the morning… the closing prayer was offered. Done. Meal finished.

I hung in the room. I had conversations to engage in. People to meet. A 1951 Taylor graduate to introduce myself to who had felt the call of God while sitting in a Youth For Christ meeting decades and decades before. And while all of that was happening… Gardner. His music became a flannel shirt and sweat pants in the room. Comfort. Care. Safe and warm.

Thirty minutes later I was the only Trustee left in the room. Others had gone to ad hoc meetings and other commitments. I waited for three of my colleagues who had committed to return to finish a discussion begun over turkey and green beans.

By this point the room was filled with student staff, all attired in black who were focused and busy. They cleared table by table. And still… Gardner.

Tablecloths were exchanged and the configuration for breakfast now began to take shape. And yes, the beautiful piano music continued. Joy propelled long after obligation had clocked out. Gardner continued. Much to the delight of those who pressed through the mundane assignment. Much to the delight of the only Trustee left in the room. Music. Melody. Harmony.

At 9:15 three Trustees reentered the room and we picked up where we had left off in conversation nearly two hours before. And Gardner played on. Without a pause. Without a break. Without acknowledgment and certainly without recognition.

At 9:55… farewells, hugs, and an unceremonious departure and still Gardner. As beautiful and rich as 6PM with a full and prestigious audience.

Halfway down the hallway I detoured my exit and returned to the room, to the music. I walked over to the young dreadlock coiffed performer and I compelled him to take one hand off of the keys to shake mine.

“Thank you.”

I didn’t know what else to say. I’d been given a gift I hadn’t asked for or expected. Not a performance, but a gift. But like overhead sprinklers, the gift had soaked every individual that had lingered in the room. Tie and sport coat. Dress and heels. Aprons and work clothes. Everyone. To the oblivious and the grateful. Everyone.

From Gardner. Still Gardner. The melodies escorted me to the exit door… and long after.

To the served and the servers. Gardner gave his best. His gift. When the room was full, and when I was alone.

For an audience of one. Literally. In worship. With joy. Still Gardner…

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