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Baby Grace graces me

Baby Grace was broadcasting her distress when I arrived at the neonatal intensive care unit. Her tiny body produced tiny screams. Her arms flailed in the premie-sized onesie. Her body craved the methamphetamines her mother had used during pregnancy.

Baby Grace was not the only distressed person in the NICU. An hour earlier, a judge had declared that Baby Grace’s mother would not have custody of her newborn. Police officers had to remove Baby Grace’s mother from the NICU by force. An agonizing experience, for everyone.

I sat with my harp close to Baby Grace’s bassinet. I plucked one note, and her head turned towards the sound. I smiled, because I had her attention. I knew we could work together. I broadened the single note into a pattern of three, gently repeated. The flailing arms slowed, the squawks became intermittent. A slow, simple melody on top of the rocking pattern, and Baby Grace fell asleep.

I kept playing while Baby Grace slept and the staff returned to their normal work rhythm. The music continued while Baby Grace’s discharge papers were signed and the nurses packed her into a car seat. I played while the social worker carried her out the door, on the way to a foster family, escorted on either side by a police officer.

As they passed me, a thought sprang into my head: This is a hard and heart-breaking way to begin a life, there is no doubt about that. But right now, Baby Grace, you look like a queen. You have attendants carrying you, and bodyguards protecting you, and you have music playing for your exit procession. This is how royalty gets treated. And I am honored to play for you. I am blessed to be your musician.

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