Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Piano

As I brushed my teeth this morning, I heard a piano play in the distance. It was my neighbor playing. It wasn't anything fancy; I knew it was a simple exercise just to start the day.

I smiled because I remembered myself so many years ago, when I couldn't let a day go by without touching those black and white keys. I would sit on the bench, touch the keys, and forget the world as I began to play.

My music teacher offered to give me lessons after school. I would let myself into the music room after hours, flex my fingers, then begin playing the latest challenging piece she threw at me. My fingers flew across the keys faster than I thought I could manage. My shoulders bore the effort of pounding on the keys as loudly as I could, then relaxed as I settled into the quiet notes that would end the piece. I would close my eyes to savor that last note, and when I opened my eyes, my teacher would be sitting at the farthest end of the room. "Again," she would say, and I would lose myself in the melody all over again.

It was years of putting in an hour every evening to practice exercises and long pieces, of struggling to learn new melodies and perfecting them, of losing and finding myself in the music.

Then life happened.

I entered college and found myself in a new world, new relationships, new interests. I busied myself with things like choir practice and org meetings, and the piano began to gather dust. Before I knew it, years had passed since I last touched the piano.

One day, I found myself staring at our piano. Untouched, unloved. Tentatively, I sat on the bench and found it uncomfortable. I touched the keys and thought the magic would simply come back to me. It didn't. I found myself clumsily trying to get through an exercise I used to know by heart. I tried to read the notes and play along, but my hands refused to catch up to the notes my brain knew how to play.

And I felt a deep shame come over me, as I knew that the same neighbors who would stop during their evening stroll to hear me play were the same neighbors who would now bear witness to my failure. The glory days were over, and I was too proud to start all over again.

I shut the piano with a bang, stood up, and hurried back to my room. I tried to forget how, a few minutes before the final bell would ring, I would shake my hands under my table to loosen them up for the coming lesson. I tried to forget that rush that came with playing a piece perfectly from beginning to end. Most of all, I tried to forget the heady feeling of knowing that I had the power to create something beautiful that I could contribute to the world, if only for a few minutes.

I had forgotten that gifts needed to be nurtured. Now I needed to forget that I had that gift at all, if only to avoid being eaten up by regret for all that could have been.

Eventually, my mom decided to sell the piano. I was moving to my own place and there was no room for it there. In a few years, my parents would be downsizing into a condo unit and there would be no place for it there either. An old couple bought it for their grandchild who was just starting lessons. I wasn't home when they took it. I didn't say goodbye.

As the final notes of my neighbor's piano played, I realized that in all the years that had passed, nothing ever quite came close to the passion I felt as I played then. I looked at my hands, the hands that no longer play, set them on the bathroom counter as they touched the black and white keys from memory, and closed my eyes to savor that last, perfect note with a smile.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What sticks

We hadn't seen each other in 15 years, but we all hugged like the old friends we've always been. M introduced us to her colleague saying, "I wouldn't have graduated high school if not for these two."

Later, after reminiscing about how C and I had rallied M to copy from us and study our notes just so she could pass, M told us how she enrolled in culinary school and graduated with third honors. "Naisip ko talaga, siguro proud kayo sa akin ngayon," she told us wistfully.

More than being proud of my friend, what she said got me thinking about just how much of an impact we can make in someone's life. Not having the right size of paper for a surprise quiz or a long test never became her excuse because I, a walking office supplies store, gave her paper and lent her ballpens too. C photocopied all her notes and turned them into handouts for exams. Together, we came up with codes, gestures, and special ways of sitting in our chairs that would make it easier for M to copy off us. I wonder if our teachers ever knew, and if they did, if they let it slide because they knew we just wanted our friend to graduate with us. And graduate, she did.

We always like to PM each other random things, but when B sent me this screencap of a post by my ex, it really got me thinking. Forget that he's my ex-- what he said about "teaching me to be neat" never happened. I mean, I never actively and consciously taught him anything. This whole business of using a ruler when I highlight passages was just the way I studied then. I never encouraged him to follow suit, or drop subtle hints by giving him a ruler and a highlighter. I just did my own thing. And now, 10 years after we had broken up and now that I'm happily married, I find that my little quirk had stayed with him.

It made me realize that we never really know how we affect people with the things we actively do for them, and the things we do without realizing that they're watching and taking notes. And sometimes, you never even get the opportunity to find out what impact you've made in life. So all you can do is try to be positive, be kind, be good, and hope that somehow you touched someone's life for the better.

The operative word is TRY. The truth is, deep down inside, all the trying can be exhausting. It is so tiring to be good. It's so draining to always be understanding. It's so difficult to keep that positive spirit burning, especially when things don't seem to be working out as they should. It is an immense pressure to be everything for everyone all the time that sometimes you just want to run away from it all. Or break down in a coffee shop. Or throw things. Whichever works at the moment.

How do you get out of that dark place and keep trying? You think of the moments that have stuck with you, the things that others have done for you and have stayed in your heart without them ever knowing. The impromptu slow dance. That hug right when you needed it. The meme that was sent to you at a time you didn't think you could laugh. The people who matter. The dreams you build together. The memories you've yet to share.

And so you take a deep breath, dry your eyes, and walk out of the coffee shop or whatever retreat you've made for yourself, armed with a new resolve to keep trying.

Be kind. Be good. You may fail some days, but just get up and try again tomorrow. You never know whose life you touch by just trying every day to be kind, be good.