Sharing Mayo Clinic

Stories from patients, family, friends and Mayo Clinic staff

August 4, 2014

In a moment … a poem, and a vision of hope

By Hoyt Finnamore

Photo of hands playing piano. Sometimes the only way to respond to a thing of beauty is to pour your thoughts out onto the page. And that’s what Mayo Clinic patient Jerry O’Donnell, of Waterloo, Iowa, did after being moved, perhaps even changed, by experiencing the beauty of music in the atrium of the Gonda Building on Mayo’s Rochester campus.

Over the past year, Jerry has been a regular visitor to Mayo Clinic, after being diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer located in the duodenum. It was a difficult diagnosis. “Over a short period of time, the reality of my health became more weight bearing,” he says. “Even while at Mayo, peaceful moments were difficult.”

When something like that happens, he says, your values change and things take on a new significance. Jerry found healing moments while listening to the piano in the atrium in the Gonda Building. “The piano became a refuge,” he says. “Music brought hope and connection. A larger family emerged before me as did a humbler sense of self with more gratitude for just being alive today surrounded by the treasures of my life, my family. Music like ‘It’s A Wonderful World,’ ‘Amazing Grace,’ and even ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ can change us.”

The Bosendorfer piano that resides in the Landow Atrium, a gift from a grateful patient, became a focal point of Jerry’s visits to Mayo Clinic. It created a safe place, an oasis between appointments. He observed others slowing down, too, enjoying the moment. “It can be a healing, spiritual experience,” he says, “filled with hope.”

And he felt moved to record that experience. He says he didn’t think of the resulting composition, “The Piano,” as a poem. However, he says, as author Peter Bradford noted, “They all become poets when their souls grew warm.” Such was the case for him in writing “The Piano,” he says.

Below are the words that came to him. And we’re blessed that he’s allowing us to share them here.

The Piano

Entering the lobby of the Mayo Clinic, among the ceramic tile and granite, slowly emerges a balcony and easy flowing staircase. People are moving all about, sick people with a friend, caretaker, or walking along to find their appointment of hope.

Hats and scarves, ages, and range of modalities. Telling eyes guarding concerns pressed onto faces, protecting private thoughts as they move by in a moment.

The lobby is a busy thoroughfare of international cultures, a cross section of our world walking together in this lobby.

Together, yet alone; preoccupied, yet saliently embraced by the spiritual canopy uniting and bonding us together.

Down the staircase below the balcony sits a glossed ebony grand piano, stoic and alone, unadorned on the marble floor, somewhat ostentatious.

Light shines through the large windows showcasing the inviting courtyard with its benches, oriental trees and a picnic table covered with snow.

Sunlight fills the spaces and emanates through the windows onto the marble floors and granite, allowing the black grand piano to share the space.

Quietly a passerby approaches the piano and softly begins to play. Music of comfort as the sound flows like a melodious harp across the floor and up the staircase and balcony.

People stop or adjust their gait to embrace and experience what is just happening.

Chairs around the piano begin to fill and the balcony becomes attentive. Small groups of people begin to grow while standing next to strangers submerged in joy and healing. All seem miraculously connected by a spiritual bond of oneness and love.

The piano shares its awakened treasures with well-known music accompanied by singing and even dance.

Faces are changed and become more angelic, suppressed tears begin to surface. Lives abundant with anxiety are freed for a moment and suspended in bliss.

Jerry O’Donnell

Tags: Amenities, Cancer, Cancer, Gonda Building, Piano

Our thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.


That piano holds magical powers. My son loved/loves sitting there and “making” music. It’s always been a highlight through his bone marrow transplant journey. He started at 14 mo old and is hitting the big notes at 5 yo. Love the magic music holds at Gonda.


Jerry, I LOVE this poem! It says it all!
But what really struck me was the line that says “walking along to find that appointment of hope” I remember that feeling so well!
And “a cross section of our world walking together” How true that is. If everyone could experience the peace at the Mayo, maybe our worlds/country wouldn’t be so divided. I’ve learned so much on my journey to find answers,but what I hold most valuable is , enjoy the little things in life because each day is a precious gift!
If everyone could experience that shiny black piano the way we have, what a world this would be!


How long did he have cancer ?

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