I arrived at Tyler Pounds Airport to greet the flight from Dallas. Onboard was a special guest: singer/songwriter Peter Yarrow.

Peter is one-third of the famous musical group Peter, Paul and Mary – most well known for “Puff the Magic Dragon” and their recordings of “Blowing in the Wind,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Another fun fact about Peter, Paul and Mary is that they performed at the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Peter Yarrow is 82 years old today and an American icon. And in 2016, I got to pick him up at the Tyler Airport.

I am involved with a wonderful program in Tyler called “Art of Peace.” For 10 years, we created local celebrations of peace in the middle of each September – anchored around September 21st, which is the UN International Day of Peace.

Over the years, we have held Peace meals, concerts, art shows, poetry books, open mics, movie nights, kids programming and so much more. It was, and remains, one of the most powerful communities of uplift in our area.

In 2016, Art of Peace brought Peter Yarrow to Tyler for the Peace Concert. It was a nearly sold out show at Liberty Hall, and Peter delivered. His music, message and voice were as powerful that night as ever.

The concert was my program, so I was in charge of logistics. I had to deal with everything from the technical needs at the theater, to Peter’s travel arrangements, to the food in the waiting room. Thankfully, I spent some time on the phone with Peter’s son, who shared with me his father’s preferred routine when he visits cities. He said one of the must-haves for Peter was a trip to a local Chinese restaurant.

Once Peter got off the plane, we hugged and I welcomed him to Tyler. As we drove to his hotel on South Broadway, I told him we were going to stop for lunch, and he was pleasantly surprised when I stopped at Ming’s.

He wondered out loud, “How did you know this was my favorite thing? I am so happy right now.”

I told him I had inside information from his son. So there we sat on the wooden chairs in Ming’s – me with my lo mein and Peter with his shrimp and broccoli.

And then the call came.

He saw that one of his friends from New Jersey was calling, and Peter asked if it was okay to answer the call while we were eating. I said, “Of course, do whatever you need.” He put his fork down and put the phone to his ear to say hello to his old friend.

Immediately, he asked how Nathan was doing – the friend’s grandson. I could see the look on Peter’s face turn sad as he said, “Oh no, I am so sorry to hear that. Can you please tell Nathan that I love him and I am thinking about him?”

“Oh, is he there? Well, put him on.”

While he was waiting for Nathan, he cupped his hand over the phone in whispered across the table to me that this young man had a neurological disorder and was just told he had to go back to the hospital for another round of surgery.

Then Nathan got on the phone and Peter began talking to him like he was his own grandchild. “How are you feeling? I heard you have to go for another round of surgery. Please know how much I love you and want you to get better.”

“What? You love Puff the Magic Dragon?” Me too!” Peter said.

Then he asked, “Hey, would you like to hear me sing the song? You would?”

And right there in the middle of Ming’s, Peter started singing the verse of Puff the Magic Dragon:

Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff

He wasn’t singing quietly, and he wasn’t singing too loudly – everybody heard it. And I am positive that no one in the room knew who he was. All they saw was an older man singing Puff the Magic Dragon on the phone to somebody.

If this wasn’t amazing enough, after Peter finished the first verse, he asked Nathan to sing the chorus. I watched Peter mouthing the words along with Nathan as he sang from the other end:

Oh, Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

He then told Nathan he had to go finish his food. He told him again that he loved him and that he would call his grandfather later. He finished by saying, “I hope you feel better.”

Then Peter hung up the phone, picked up his fork and ate the next piece of broccoli.

In my faith tradition, there is a teaching that we can experience godliness in brief moments of awesomeness. These are called sparks of I-Thou – when we move from mundane interactions to holy connections. They are all around us, but we need to discipline ourselves to see when they occur. This was one of those moments.

And for Pete, he was not performing before a crowd. He was not getting paid. He was just sharing a little bit of music to bring joy into someone else’s life.

And that is worth everything.

Thank you, Pete.

By Neal Katz

Neal Katz has been the rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Tyler, TX since 2003. He is currently the Board Chair of the Tyler Loop. He serves on a number of local non-profit boards and is also a musician.