I recently watched a documentary on the life and art of Australian’s concert pianist David Helfgott. You may remember that the movie “Shine” was based on his life. The documentary was about his 2015 Germany tour and it’s simply called, “Hello I’m David!”

David experienced a nervous breakdown early in life and was in mental institutions for 11 years, at a time when psychotropics and electric shocks, among other things, were the treatments of choice. No one thought David would ever recover but then he met Gillian, his wife of now over thirty years, and his new life began.

Under Gillian’s careful guidance and infinite patience, David began to play to large audiences again and his artistry has reached millions throughout the world for about three decades now.

Admittedly, David is not your typical concert pianist. He grimaces, grunts, mumbles to himself audibly, all of this while he is playing. He is not the most technical of pianists either, but he can still play up a storm. The music he plays has hurricane force, now becoming one with him, now leaving him to crash against the shore, in an explosive act of giving.

David is not your typical human being either. At 65, socially, he functions like a little child, like a special child who is filled with wonder and compassion, who sees beauty in every little thing around him. David, left to his own devices, would probably spend all his time meeting everyone who comes within striking distance of his path. Like a magnet, he moves toward people, telling them, “Hello, I am David. What’s your name? Are you from here?” Then he hugs them, kisses them, and dispenses phrases, barely comprehensible, like “be happy in the moment.”

Watching how people react to David’s overtures toward them was worth the price of the film. At first, people naturally resist, and some even recoil. Soon, however, they engage him and in their own awkward way they return the love and appreciate the attention. In the eyes of the world, David is not “normal,” but is that really true? Consider this:

The love between David and Gillian is ebullient – a word that refers to liveliness and enthusiasm. And they relate to each other with a level of compassion and kindness that I’ve rarely seen, even when David’s behavior could easily prompt someone to “lose it.” I am convinced that what brought David back was the love he feels from his “darling,” as he always calls his wife. Together, they know how to celebrate every little thing they have and they finish their day every day remembering the many reasons they have to be grateful.

I stumbled into David again as I was preparing to preach this Sunday’s message on generosity. I wish I could talk at length about David Helfgott and his wife Gillian because they model generosity well in my book, even though and they are not religious people.

I will probably not have time to talk about David this Sunday, so I will say it here: lately I have been wondering if we have this whole thing about ‘normalcy’ all upside down. David lives like a child who is always fascinated with the universe around him. And he treats everyone as if they were the most important people in the world. Could it be that he is “normal” and the rest of us aren’t? Maybe God can use someone like David to remind all of us about what is really important in this life.

David’s life sends me back to the pristine world before the fall. No, I am not saying he is sinless. I am just saying that if we were to rewind the tape (pardon the old metaphor) and go all the way back to the garden, Adam and Eve would probably look a lot more like David than like the critics who write harsh words about him and his artistry. It might shock you to hear me say this but I will say it anyway: David, in his innocence, is a lot more Christ-like in the way he lavishes generosity on others than a lot of church-going people I know. It’s a thought to mull over for a while.

“From the mouths of babies,” the Bible says. Then why not from the life of a 65 year old man who learned — or stumbled upon — what it is like to live like a child?

“Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous.” (2 Corinthians 9:11).

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

 

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