Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Evening To Remember

The US Ambassador invited me to his home last evening. It was an occasion for which decided to don a dress shirt and tie for the first time in three months. It is somewhat humid here in Rwanda, but I was surprised to discover how much my dress shirt had shrunk just hanging in my closest. The collar was quite uncomfortably snug.

Upon arriving at the Ambassador’s Residence, Ambassador Stuart Symington and his gracious wife, Susan, introduced me to some of their other friends, including Llewellyn Werner, his wife Martha, and their adolescent son, Llewellyn. They are very nice people, and I ultimately found myself particularly engaged with “Llewellyn the Younger”, who I presumed to be sixteen, maybe seventeen. He was extraordinarily articulate and engaging. The conversation came quite easy for both of us. Among other things, he explained that he was raised in Ventura, but now resides in New York. He also said something about enjoying piano.

After I administered a medicinal gin and tonic (mosquitoes, you understand), the Ambassador explained that we (and his seldom played piano) were in for a special treat. Llewellyn had agreed to play for us. I was ready to politely listen to a mediocre rendition of Wabash Cannonball played by my new friend. Three measures into a Franz Liszt piece, the room became still as a morgue, except for Llewellyn’s fingers which moved faster than my eyes and brain could record.

Franz Liszt was followed by Chopin, both played with a skill that stirs much more than amazement, …nearly tears (but I make every effort not to cry in the presence of the Ambassador).

When Llewellyn finished, questions for him poured from me:

“My oh my, that was AMAZING! How old are you?”


“Twelve!?!?" [At twelve I was just transitioning from Velcro to real shoelaces. O.K., that is a bit of literary license, only because when I was twelve they didn’t have Velcro.]
“Twelve? Oh dear. When did you start playing piano?”

“In my late two’s.”

“Late two’s! Huh. I have never heard that expression. Late twenties, late fifties,… but 'late two’s'? Imagine where you might be if you had gotten started a little earlier?...
Where do you go to school?”

“Juilliard School in New York City.”

“Juilliard? And before Juilliard?”

“I was in college.”

“College?” [I had to redirect the conversations to matters I could better understand: His flight over (he had come from the airport directly to the Ambassador’s Residence); the perfect weather in Rwanda; the marble collection I had when I twelve. I am certain he was fascinated.]

I later learned from his mother that Llwellyn began college courses when he was five years old, bypassing Mrs. Hendricks in Kindergarten, and Mrs. Crawford in Sixth Grade, and Mr. Flagler in High School…all those people who surely must be to blame for stunting the great talent that I would otherwise be demonstrating.

I often say that meeting… hanging with… EXTRAORDINARY people is among my many great blessings here in Rwanda. (I most certainly include the poorest of the working poor among such EXTRAORDINARY people). Llewellyn Werner ranks among the top of such extraordinary people by whom I have been blessed.

Thank you, Llewellyn. I regret that I did not have a camera to take your picture,... but to throw in some visual color, here is a photo of another extraordinary person who I am blessed and privileged to know: