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.

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