All buttoned down

I distinctly remember the first symphony concert I ever attended. We were kids in elementary school and our twice-a-week music teacher prepared us for it weeks in advance so our anticipation was building. Not only were we going on a field trip, but we were joining elementary school kids from all over the city in the auditorium of the city’s largest high school for what, I suppose, was for some the one and only time they would hear a symphony in person and for others was just the beginning, just a taste of what music could mean in their lives.

The day arrived and we piled into the chartered bus. Just being in the high school that held much of my future was an exciting proposition for me. We filed one behind another into the auditorium and took our seats. I was excited.

My copy of Copland's "Appalachian Spring." That's my brother Tony in the photo in the background. I couldn't help but put the album on to the "record player" after I was able to track it down and pull it out from our multitudes of record albums. The record turns as though there's a slight warp in it, but I'm surprised by the lack of scratches in it. This particular recording was probably released in the late '60s or early '70s.

My copy of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” That’s my brother Tony in the photo in the background (probably at least 10 years ago). I couldn’t help but put the album on to the “record player” after I was able to track it down and pull it out from our multitudes of record albums. The record turns as though there’s a slight warp in it, but I’m surprised by the lack of scratches in it. It sounds great! This particular recording was probably released in the late ’60s or early ’70s.

Our music teacher had us listen to Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” as she played parts of it on the record player. We learned about the movements of a symphony and how we were to hold our applause during those quiet moments in between and then clap when, and only when, the conductor put down his baton and turned around to face the audience. We must have prepared for other orchestrations as well, but this is the one I remember.

I thought the music was really pretty broadcast on the Hi-Fi record player. But in person, it just took me away. Whether I knew anything of Appalachia or not, whether we were taught at the time of some of the poverty to be found in those hills or not, the music painted a picture for me of singing birds and rustling leaves, of flowers in bloom and blossoming trees. It was beautiful. It remains one of my favorite symphonies and one of the most understandable for me.

Now you would think that the music and the orchestra would have been enough. But I got a real treat when Bobby Buttons appeared on stage. As I recall, Bobby (and it may have been spelled with an “ie” instead of a “y”) bounded in front of us to explain with some alacrity and fun what we were hearing and something about the instruments that played that music. My memory is colored by time, no doubt, but it seems to me that Bobby wore an outfit of green with buttons of all sizes and colors sewn decoratively all over it. It’s not that the buttons served any purpose except to give the character some character – and a name. I hesitate to say that Bobby was a clown, but the outfit, the wig, the hat, and the makeup gave that impression; yet if Bobby were a clown, he was a very educated clown who helped children learn about music.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I became a student in that same high school and I discovered that one of my classmate’s claimed Bobby Buttons as his mom. Not only that, she was an English teacher right there in that same high school.

Frankly, it made me see this English teacher in a different light. I never studied with her, but her hallway demeanor kind of scared me. She seemed to buttoned down. Yet the knowledge of her alter ego Bobby Buttons made me realize there was another side to this woman, a side that not only knew her stuff when it came to teaching children and teens, but a lighter side, a fun side that took all of that serious knowledge and transformed it into something young people could understand and enjoy.

A very kind friend loaned us a wheelchair for two days while we visited my brother last week. He wouldn't have been able to get around without it. [Internet photo]

A very kind friend loaned us a wheelchair for two days while we visited my brother last week. He wouldn’t have been able to get around without it. [Internet photo]

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit again my older brother Tony in St. Joseph, Mo. Tony lives in a group home there. His arthritis is making it very hard for him to get around. But with the generous loan of a very nice wheelchair, my husband and I were able to get him into and around places it might have otherwise been impossible. Where the wheelchair didn’t fit or when he just wanted more independence, his cane proved to be invaluable. Even at that, when he would accept my arm as additional support, I realized just how much he needed assistance because he was placing all of his weight on me when it shifted from the cane.

Tony was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 18. That was 56 years ago. I was just eight at the time so I didn’t understand anything about it. But when Mom and Dad both died within three years of each other back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I had to quickly learn a lot. Helpful psychiatrists sat with me without charge and listened as I explained what I knew of Tony’s diagnosis and what Tony seemed to be dealing with as an adult. Together, Tony and I have learned a little more about each other and we have come to depend upon one another as a brother and a sister.

Of all of the painful observations I have made as a result of being an advocate for my brother, the most painful for me has been the way he is treated or scorned by other people who know nothing of his situation. Tony is highly intelligent, nearly a savant when it comes to history and geography. He is probably the most intelligent of all four of the Lord children. Certainly he is the wisest. But with all that he has had to deal with, public appearances and grace have not been at the top of his list of necessities. I have come to understand it even when he has frustrated me. Still, I see people staring at him with disapproval in restaurants when he eats or coming here or there dressed in very well used clothing that doesn’t necessarily match.

And here’s the irony. On this visit, as Tony literally hobbled with his cane or leaned on me or even sat in his wheelchair, there seemed to be a complete reversal in public opinion. His physical disability garnered courtesy on the part of people coming and going around him. Complete strangers waited patiently on him and for him, holding doors and helping him in and out of his chair.

The reaction toward him was the complete opposite of what I had experienced with him for the past 18-20 years.

Apparently when we can see a physical disability, we are inclined to action, to assistance. When a disability is invisible because it is part of the brain, we tend toward judgment and staring. Our opinions are all buttoned down by life experience and ignorance.

Me and my brother. My brother and me. From a couple years ago. [Terry C. Anderson photo]

Me and my brother. My brother and me. From a couple years ago. [Terry C. Anderson photo]

I was so grateful for every person, young and old, who stepped forward to help Tony get from point to point, even just extending the common courtesy so often forgotten of holding a door. And I am thankful for each person who will continue to do that when I am not present to witness it.

Bobby Buttons and my music teacher helped me open a door to a world of music of which I knew nothing. I assumed with my limited understanding of the world that Bobby was a man. I also assumed that the English teacher who seemed so strict had a side of her that made learning fun and I am grateful to her. I needed to loosen my buttons a lot to move from judgment to appreciation. Oh, that we might all put aside our judgments and appreciate everyone we meet without the need for explanation as to how or why we are broken. We are all broken to some extent.



15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. – Leviticus 19:15-16


37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. – Luke 6:37-39

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