Our family is particularly fond of Scottish-Canadian tenor, John McDermott. At the first concert we attended, only a few years into his public singing career, I slipped a note backstage. Our teenage daughter Amanda was with us, I wrote. It’s her birthday. Do you think you could acknowledge her somehow during your concert?
John dedicated a song to her that evening. We’ve never forgotten his kindness, and have since attended each of his concerts anywhere near. All but one, that is. A concert scheduled shortly after the Preacher contracted West Nile Disease.
That evening, Amanda explained our absence to John, and the next morning he called the rehab centre where Rick lay, paralyzed, simply to wish him well. They spoke only a few minutes, but this second kindness touched us both deeply. Its memory still does.
A while back, John visited Regina. I emailed him beforehand to tell him we’d be in the audience. “I’ll be looking for the Gibson clan,” he wrote back almost immediately.
We met before the concert. I approached him from behind. “Mr. McDermott…” I said. He turned, smile wide. “Kathleen!” he said, hugging me. He hugged Amanda, too, greeted the pair of grandbeans with us and slapped the men on their shoulders. After chatting a bit, he looked at me more closely.
“You’ve changed,” he said. “You all have!” Grinning, he added, “So have I!” His magnificent mane, once black as Scottish coal, has paled to white, and his face is lined.
A few songs into the concert, John introduced his next piece with this: “Our next song is mush. Pure mush.” The audience laughed. “About fifteen years ago,” he explained, “I sang it to a young lady on her birthday…” Looking directly into our box seats, he called, “was that your fifteenth birthday, Amanda?”
“Yes,” she shouted, astonished. “But it was twenty years ago!”
As the first few words of the ballad Mary of Argyle floated upwards, they transported me back to the Anne Portnuff Theatre in Yorkton. To the broken-hearted child my girl was that day. The only friend she’d invited to share her birthday supper had jilted her. But that man on the stage, tall as a sailing ship, with a voice as warm as a down comforter – a voice she had long admired – transformed that birthday into one she’ll never forget.
Whenever I walk with Amanda’s young children beside lakes, ditches and ponds, we stop to toss in stones. Their ripples change the water, travelling a multitude of times further than each stone’s size. Each kindness is like that, I tell them. It changes the world, in small ways and big ways. One day they’ll get it.
John could never have guessed it at the time, but his gift changed all our lives, even his. I later wrote the story of what happened that evening. It landed in Readers Digest Canada first, and spread around the world to inspire others.
It doesn’t need to be a huge kindness. But today, make a ripple.
To my surprise, that original Reader’s Digest article is still archived on John’s website. (with the transcriptionist’s spelling errors intact, mind you!)