As a kid, I spent my summers growing up on the shore of Chautauqua Lake in western New York state.  Within the famous Institution there is a world renown community known for its collaboration of music, art, education, and philosophy.  Every summer season, they have a feast of cultural events, classes, and entertainment fueled by prestigious guests and speakers from all over the world.  It’s something you don’t really appreciate as a kid, but it was a gold mine for summer jobs.

One of my jobs for a few summers was to work on the stage crew of the central concert hall that we call the Amphitheater.  We would set the stage up for a guest speaker in the morning, lay the dance floor for ballet practice in the afternoon, and then set up for whatever big show was scheduled for that evening.  Every day was something different depending on the schedule.

There is a full-scale symphony orchestra that plays a few nights a week at the Amphitheater which is composed of some of the best musicians in the country.  Symphony nights are generally pretty boring for us kids, so the stage crew members usually hide in our little cubby hole office trying to find ways to quietly entertain ourselves during the show.   We were on a card game kick that month and were looking for a fourth player for a game called Euchre.  Some raggedy older gentleman was walking by our table, noticed our dilemma, and asked if he could play.  It was very normal for people to come and go during the bustle of the show, so we didn’t really think anything of it.   We of course were happy to oblige and got right into it.  

If you know anything about the exotic card game of Euchre, it’s not really a game that makes any sense at first.   The actual fun mostly has nothing to do with the cards and is more about the trash talking against the other players.  The real object of the game is to throw down winning trump cards while trying to come up with the best insult you can against your opponents.  This weird guy we just picked up of course knew that, so it didn’t take long for us to engage in some heavy verbal combat.  He started making fun of our uniforms and I think we responded with comments about his hair or something he was wearing.  We noticed he had a bit of an English accent so that gave us ammunition to start making fun of the queen or something related to tea time.  He laughed and laughed as we took turns slapping down cards and had a fantastic time.  

After several minutes, he paused in the middle of a hand as he heard something in the background.  He set down his cards and said:  “Oh no sorry, I have to go!”.   He then proceeded to sprint down the hallway, round the corner, and step out directly onto the stage.  Mind you this was in the middle of the performance in front of a crowd of about 6,000 people.  As it turns out, he was the guest conductor for the evening, and we had absolutely no idea.  After an initial barrage of fierce clapping, he immediately proceeded to command a 65-person orchestra for a full non-stop 20-minute piece completely from memory.  He used no sheet music because he had memorized every single note for each instrument for the entire 20-minute performance.  There are only a handful of people in the world who have the ability to do this.  The crowd cheered, thunderous applause.   He walked off the stage and directly back to our little office.  He picked up his cards, apologized for the delay, and asked if we could start playing again.   

This raggedy disheveled gentleman was one of the principal conductors of the world-renowned London Symphony Orchestra, and he was sitting right in front of us trying to figure out the best way to make fun of our mothers.

It’s a great story and always a reminder to me that we never know who may be standing right in front of us.  We never know what bag of dice they may be holding in their pocket.   What journey did they have to take to get there?  What hidden skills do they have?   What events have they experienced in their life that helped shape who they are?  What is their unique perspective on this life we are living?  What obstacles have they had to climb over and step through?  What dice did they roll?  Number bias inherently forces us to make so many assumptions.  And sometimes it often causes us to miss so much.