Kindness in Troubled Times The Story of Simon Gronowski, The Man that Made People Feel Good in Difficult Times
The year began with high hopes for all. There were plans by all who had started the year with high spirits to do the things that would make them better humans, but little did they know that the coming days and months would bring so many uncertainties and pain.
In late November 2019, the coronavirus’s emergence left the world with much sorrow, loss, and grief. The world has seen the worst, from losing loved ones to losing significant sources of livelihood to nations’ economy crumbling.
It was at the height of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in spring, which had hit the nation of Belgium as hard as any other place in the world that a Holocaust survivor Simon Gronowski began playing jazz tunes from his apartment window in Brussels, bringing light to the lives of his neighbors at a dark and challenging time.
Talk about an act of kindness in a time when it was so needed!
As a child, Gronowski had jumped from a train leaving a Nazi transit camp in former military barracks in Mechelen and had gone on to speak and write about his experiences. Having committed many acts of bravery and generosity in his lifetime, at 89 years of age, opening a window wouldn’t ordinarily be one of them. But as a Holocaust survivor, Gronowski has seen death more intimately before.
He summoned courage, moved his electric piano to the window sill, and flung the window open, allowing the spring sunshine along with the subtle quietness of a city terrified of the virus, and began to play out a jazz note.
“I was afraid,” he said. “It’s not normal to just open the window and play.”
Soon enough, his neighbors popped their heads out of the windows one after the other; some even donning their masks, walked up to his building to hear better.
He began to play regularly, filling the leafy streets with jazz notes and bringing relief to his besieged neighbors throughout the lockdown. For Gronowski, who wanted so much to connect with his neighbors, “music is a means of communication, of connection,” he says.
An English teacher, Amy Edwards Anderson from the United States, who for 22 years has lived in Brussels, first heard Mr. Gronowski play from her back yard while sitting out with her family. It was surprising to her because it became apparent that the notes weren’t from someone who was practicing the piano but from one performing for the block.
For Amy, the short window concerts burst into her family’s confinement caused by the pandemic and lifted their spirits. “Here was someone who was amplifying music to share with his neighbors for no other reasons than to make people feel good during a difficult time,” she said. A kind of unsolicited gift to the neighborhood.”
A black and white picture of him playing by the window was taken by one of his neighbors. It was printed out and slipped into his mailbox with a simple note saying, “Merci.”
For Mr. Gronowski, who only had planned an impromptu concert to make people happy, playing for others has held intrinsic value for him his entire life.
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