Two items of GetReligion biz (prayers for George, please)

Let me share two items with readers this weekend, both of a personal nature. The first is personal, in that one of your GetReligionistas has been missing for a few days and his readers need to know why. Father George Conger recently had some serious spinal surgery and, while it went well, this is not the kind of thing that one recovers from quickly. He faces some pretty serious rehabilitation and it may be some time before he is his usual erudite, spunky self near a keyboard and a mouse.

So, those of you who feel comfortable with the word "prayer," please offer a few invocations on our brother's behalf. He has enough high-church blood in him to appreciate a few requests for the heroic prayers of St. George, I would think.

We will keep you posted, but know that this is not the kind of situation that you rush. Until then, your GetReligionistas will be working shorthanded (we've been down one scribe after the loss of Sarah Pulliam Bailey, as it was) for a while. So expect some days when there are only two posts, especially since I will be traveling for about a week, including a visit to New York City to lead a few seminars at this year's spring College Media Convention.

Also, thank you for those who wrote kind notes appreciating my recent rather personal post about the coverage of the death of the great pianist (and Texas Baptist) Van Cliburn, one of my classical music heroes as a Southern Baptist preacher's kid growing up in East Texas.

Thus, I thought I would share a big chunk of reflection on the pianist, published in The Washington Post Style section. It concerns an encounter with Cliburn in the late 1950s, when the father of writer Patricia Dane Rogers was dying of cancer in the family's New York apartment. Her parents met the pianist at their doctor's office soon after his world-shaking victory in the international Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, which made him one of the most famous musicians in the world.

Months later, when it was obvious that her father's illness was terminal, Cliburn offered to come over and play for him.

Did they have a piano?

I have no idea how they got that enormous Steinway into our tiny 10th-floor pied-a-terre, but Cliburn, fresh from a more formal concert, arrived at the appointed hour and began to play. The audience included my father, in his bed, my mother, me and a handful of awestruck classmates on the living room floor and, unbeknownst to us until she burst into the room in her bathrobe, our next-door neighbor, the widow of theater impresario Lee Shubert. ...

For his second visit, which was unannounced and unexpected, Cliburn let himself in after we had gone to bed. He accompanied himself, so to speak, humming the orchestral parts of that signature Rachmaninoff (concerto). He stayed until the sun came up, ending with Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which he sang as well as played. I’d like to think my father heard, but he never woke up again to say.

Half a century, nearly a lifetime later, I still think it was the most perfect of exits imaginable.

So, while there is no overt religious faith in that gesture, it isn't hard to imagine that Cliburn's faith, as well as simple human dignity, played some role in this moving offer of service to a stricken music lover.

I thought I would share it. Read it all, because I think it's quite amazing.

And don't forget the prayers for Father Conger.

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