By John Thomas Tuft

Wheaton was determined that this would become his novaturient moment. He simply was not happy with the way things were going in his life. Big changes were needed, and by God, he was going to make them. But first…! He needed to ask the opinions of his friends. Maybe watch some self-help videos on YouTube. Maybe even read a book by someone who had decided to change their life by writing a book about changing their life and then making their life into a traveling minstrel show to sell more books and get a TED Talk on top of that. Maybe take a poll asking how others had changed their lives. Maybe go to a church and ask because religious people are always talking about how their lives have changed for the better, if you didn’t look too closely at the details. He decided to go out for some coffee and as he walked down the street he saw an old man standing on the corner, holding high a sign which read: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.

Wheaton passed the old man, wondering why his shoes did not match and what rodents might dwell in the thick gray and white beard that reached halfway down his chest. The zephyrs of May wafted the odor of rotted fish and an unwashed body to Wheaton as he tried not to stare and hurried inside the shop. Intrigued by the man’s sign, he sat at a booth in the front window and watched how others might react. He swirled some hazelnut creamer into his coffee and was taking that first delectable sip when he saw two Generation Z types approaching the assumed vagrant. One of the young men hung back to record the transaction on his phone while the other engaged the man briefly, then handed him a bouquet of flowers with a note attached. The one with the phone kept recording from a distance as the man read the note, smiled in a sad way, and dug out the envelope hidden in the flowers. He pulled out a wad of cash from the envelope as the recording continued, did a little jig, and proceeded to watch as the young man stopped recording.

In a few seconds the video had been uploaded to TikTok, Instagram and YouTube for all the world to see their act of generosity. The two Gen-Z compatriots met up at the corner and continued on their quest for immortality. So, they missed what Wheaton witnessed next. The old man crossed the street to where a woman sat on a doorstep rocking back and forth in obvious distress. He gave her the flowers and the wad of cash, waved off her thanks and crossed back. There he proceeded to pick up his sign and continued to display its message: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.

Wheaton’s breakfast arrived and as he was digging into the eggs and toast and bacon a mother and daughter took their places in the booth behind him. The child was beautiful and sweet, eager to please her mother, and of such a delicate nature you would swear that she was aliferous. Wheaton saw all of this in their reflections in the window and though he tried not to eavesdrop, it was near impossible not to. “Remember,” said the mother, “you can order whatever you want. We’re celebrating your recital performance from last night.” The girl giggled. “I love playing the violin, Momma. Thank you for the lessons.” She cocked her head to one side. “I think I’ll have chocolate chip banana pancakes!” Momma smiled. “You did a wonderful job, you deserve them.” Then her phone pinged, and she turned her attention to the latest video on her TikTok feed.

She smiled as she watched on the video as a young man approached a troubled old man who looked homeless and gave him a bunch of flowers. A tear came to her eyes as she watched the old man open the note and then discover the money, as well. “Honey, look at this,” she said to her daughter, eager to use social media to teach her child a ‘good’ lesson. The little girl watched without a word for a moment. “Who is filming it, Momma?” she asked in all innocence. “That doesn’t matter,” her mother assured her. “They’re teaching us a lesson.” The girl watched for another moment and suddenly grew quite excited. “Momma, look! Look at his sign!”

The woman was quite confused. “Right there,” insisted the girl, “it says, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! That’s what Miss Lillie said to me last night.” Momma clicked off the video, a bit annoyed. “What are you talking about?” Her daughter explained, “I was so nervous about playing my violin. Miss Lillie called me over to the piano and whispered to me. She said, ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of. Don’t worry. It’s not about you.’” Momma, like a lot of adults, was not quite ready to hear such notions. “What do you mean, not about you? Then what is it about?” Her daughter replied with all the patience of a butterfly, “It’s about the music, Momma. It’s always about the music.” And after a bite of chocolate chip banana pancake, she continued. “I got lost playing the hard part. Miss Lillie smiled and played the music I needed until I figured it out and kept playing. I heard the music and kept playing, Momma. Don’t you see?”

Wheaton dropped his fork, trying to take it all in. Long after the mother and child left, he was still there. Hopefully, trying to hear the music as the old man walked past with his sign: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.