By: Margaret Sowry
Lionel (not his real name) joined the 12 Heartbeats (the self chosen name of the drumming participants) the second week of the protocol. He walked with a swagger and reeked of attitude born in the "Hood", as he so aptly referred to it. He slumped in his seat, and interjected sarcastic humor into nearly everything.
Lionel deferred any serious thought, reaction or comment to his "jokester" mode effortlessly. "Being funny" he readily acknowledged as his best quality. He offered no apology.
His first drumming contribution was a violent slam on the gathering drum that sent everyone to their feet. The group's awareness drifted to a gunshot in the hood... a sound that was all too familiar.
Over the course of the following weeks, he remained stoic while clinging to the gathering drum. If one of the other members arrived first and took the drum, he immediately reclaimed it. Somehow Grandma Drum was a security symbol for him. The group shared an understanding not to challenge his need. Even when the group rotated instruments, Lionel never allowed Grandma to move from his side.
During the first four HealthRHYTHMS sessions, Grandma reflected his anger, frustration and sense of being lost. Everyone recognized that unspoken eerie connection between Lionel, Grandma and his legendary "gunshot sound."
The first time Lionel put away the mallet for a brief period and placed his hands on Grandma, it was to drum his expression of "running away." The others in the group immediately commented and gave credit to his breakthrough. He had not shared anything "real" previously, and had never tolerated any acknowledgement of an emotional response. He merely nodded sheepishly and appeared pleased.
During the next session, "Inspirational Beats" challenged the group to complete the phrase: "The hardest thing for me to do is?" Lionel immediately blurted: "be more tolerant of others, and not come on so strong." He moved Grandma aside and reached for a djembe. He drummed with freedom and enthusiasm. His hands flew with incredible rhythm and expression.
"WOW, Lionel that was incredible, did you know you could do that?" yelled several members of the group.
He shrugged his shoulders and responded, "I was just ready."
Who could ever imagine what happened within this young man that incredible day? One had only to look into his eyes to witness immense pain, anger and fear. There was no way to measure the significance of that rare moment. The celebratory response from the group echoed the look of new-found strength on his face. He never echoed another gunshot.
Soon thereafter, Lionel was discharged.
Mid-fall, the facility received a telephone call from the principal of the school that Lionel attends. "I don't know what happened there at your facility, but Lionel is a changed young man. He attends school every day, he studies hard, plays basketball and is planning a future. Whatever took place there transformed him and gave him hope."