The creation of e-mail communications may be a negative intrusion in some lives, considering the number of junk messages that must be deleted daily, but its also opened some very positive doors of communication. Consider this scenario:
Many years ago, I worked as a counselor at Boys Town, Nebraska. I worked with some great kids while affiliated with this famous "City of Little Men." After leaving my counseling job to pursue other career paths (and raise a family), I lost touch with most of my young Boys Town charges. That is, until e-mail surfaced as a popular mode of personal communications.
Suddenly, I was hearing from those "not-so-young-anymore" men who were once among my young brood at Boys Town. Many of them are now fathers and even grandfathers. But they all seem to look back at the days of their youth fondly.
One of my "boys" e-mailed me the following message and story:
"Since you do a lot of storytelling these days, like you did at Boys Town, I thought Id pass along a story I heard the other day. It sure reminds me of the stories you told us."
Ill paraphrase here the story he related.
The story was about a former elementary school music teacher named Irene Scott. She had retired from school teaching and was now supplementing her income by teaching violin lessons to kids - mostly to youngsters in her neighborhood.
Some of her students showed outstanding talent as a violinist. Others were, as she gently put it, "musically challenged." One such student was Kyle, an 11 year old boy. He was very challenged indeed. He just couldnt seem to learn even the very basic techniques of playing the violin. He couldnt even hold the instrument correctly. In fact, Mrs. Scott finally suggested to him that he turn to other interests - anything but music.
Kyle, however, resisted her suggestion vigorously. He said it was his mothers dream to someday hear him play the violin like a master. And he would do anything to make it possible for her to realize that dream.
Mrs. Scott reluctantly agreed to keep teaching him. Twice every week Kyles mother, a single mom, would drop him off at Mrs. Scotts house for his lessons, then return 45 minutes later to pick him up. The teacher never actually met Kyles mother.
Initially, the mother contacted Mrs. Scott through her personal "music teacher" Web site. Subsequently, arrangements for the violin lessons were made via e-mail communications, and the mother never left her car when leaving or picking up Kyle. She usually waived and smiled at the teacher, but that was the limit of their contacts.
The boy tried desperately to develop his ability with the violin, but still didnt show much progress. Mrs. Scott was increasingly convinced he was a hopeless case. He just didnt have the needed aptitude.
After six months of lessons, Kyle stopped coming to the teachers house. Mrs. Scott was actually quite relieved, and thought it was probably because he finally realized he just didnt have the ability.
A couple of months later, it was time to prepare for the annual recital, where all of Mrs. Scotts students would perform for an audience of parents, relatives and friends. Everything was shaping up nicely for the event, and she sent out announcement flyers to the homes of all students, including Kyles.
To her great surprise, Mrs. Scott received an e-mail message from Kyle, asking if he could participate in the recital. She responded, saying the recital was only for current students and Kyle had dropped out.
Kyle immediately responded, explaining that his mom had become very sick and was unable to take him to Mrs. Scotts house for lessons. But he had continued to practice hard, using the exercises she had taught him.
"Now I think Im ready to play at the recital," he said. "And its really important that I do."
Mrs. Scott finally relented and told Kyle he would be scheduled on the program. She positioned him just before the last person in the performing sequence. The last student was a seasoned violinist who could be depended on for a good performance. This, she reasoned, would save the evening after any damage incurred by Kyles faltering performance.
The recital was held in the large meeting room at the local public library. The room was packed with excited students, relatives and friends. All was going as planned. One by one, the students performed well, showing they had practiced and prepared for the event.
Then it was Kyles turn. He stepped to the front with his violin. He carefully positioned the instrument under his chin, placed the bow to its strings, and started to play a difficult but delightful composition by Mozart. He performed flawlessly. After about seven minutes, he concluded with a grand crescendo that brought the entire audience to their feet for a great standing ovation. Kyle had indeed mastered the violin.
Mrs. Scott came over to Kyle and gave him a hug. Using the microphone and PA system, she asked him how he had managed to perform so well.
Kyle replied, "You remember I told you my mom was sick. Well, a week ago she died of cancer and Im now living with my grandparents. Since mom was born deaf, she never heard me play the violin in public - until tonight. I wanted to make it special for her."
Jim Woodard, who lives in Ventura, California, is the resident storyteller at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. He also presents programs at public libraries, schools and other venues. His e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.