I saw a man playing the organ at my Mom’s church, and he looked familiar. He hunched over the keyboard and effortlessly trotted out a soothing bit of church music by Bach. I thought, “Is that Mr. Timpone?”
Mr. Timpone taught at my elementary school, and took a music instructor position when I was in the sixth grade. He had just graduated from college and looked like a mature high school kid. His kind and easy manner put us at ease, and he encouraged an appreciation of music by introducing contemporary works. Not modern classical music in the manner of Stravinsky or Shostakovich, but rock operas such as “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. I still remember enjoying “What’s the Buzz?” from JCS. I disliked the moments when Jesus felt the need to scream, however, and Judas’ extended freak out near the end disturbed me. But Mr. Timpone explained the music in terms we understood and allowed us to explore our reactions. No judgments, no condescension.
Mr. Timpone eventually left my parish school and took a job in the public system. He married, had children, and could no longer make ends meet on the meager salary he earned at Ascension Catholic School. He served in other capacities, however. He was the choir director when my mother got drafted to join, and she also enjoyed his easy going ways. He could tease relaxed but beautiful performances out of his singers, and never made them feel like a practice was a chore. Subsequent directors favored a more disciplinarian approach, and my mother had to adjust to the disapproving demeanor of one who turned out to be a stickler for details. That woman produced tighter performances delivered with much less joy.
Mom confirmed my identification after we took a seat in a pew, and I went over to talk to him before Mass started. I introduced myself, and he squinted with a friendly smile. He said, “The more I look at you, the more familiar you become.” He’d last seen me when I was fourteen, and I felt surprised that I vaguely resembled any memory he may have had. I had gained 80 pounds and grayed extensively in the 45 year interim.
We chatted about teaching, schools, his children and mine. He said that his middle daughter had given him a grandchild, but the oldest and youngest showed no signs of settling down. I said that mine had just married. We talked about his career and retirement, my work, living in Orlando. He listened carefully to everything, and I felt like we had been friends all these years.
The Mass and sermon did little for me, but my talk with Mr. Timpone lingered. I wished that I had a similar talent for putting others at ease, but felt grateful that people like Mr. Timpone exist. They move through our lives making us feel more comfortable in our skins, giving us a sense that all will be well. Angels of grace may live among us.