Friday, March 7

Do The Thing You Really Love

Dear Jacob,

When Grandma bought the Baldwin piano I was six years old.  Buying a piano from that particular store meant the owner's wife would give us a month of free lessons. Those lessons went to me. I don't think I asked for them, but I think my mother worked her magic and made it sound like a really good idea. And after I spent a month going C-D-E, E-D-C, C-D-E-D-C-C and maybe adding something right after that with my left hand, I kept going.

I think we continued lessons at the piano store for just a short while and then Grandma found me my next teacher, Yvonne. We'd go to her house for lessons for the next five years.  One day a week after school we'd rush to get to her house and on the days that I'd forget and ride the bus home, Grandma wasn't too pleased with me.  While she was always cheerful when we walked in the door, Yvonne got down to business quickly. That was the part I was always a little afraid of because at that point things got a little spiritual with her being the priest and me confessing that I hadn't practiced very much. I never really felt absolved, just guilty. Which I think is usually how confession works if I rightly understand my Catholic friends.

Yvonne made me do things I didn't want to do. Like theory. And practice. She and Mom were in cahoots with one another on that one, involving scratch-and-sniff sticker charts and other suspicious tactics.  I loved practicing once I knew the song well but all that time in between was, I'm pretty sure, agony for my family. But when I got good enough to play a song in church or perform well at a recital where I eventually claimed that coveted "last performer of the night" spot, I caught a wind that inspired me to become prodigious like Vladimir Horowitz.  Look him up.

And then we made a big move and I said, "Whew! I'm never taking piano lessons again!"  and did the happy dance and didn't even care if my mother put the piano against an interior wall in the new house. But a year later I was begging for lessons and there was a woman down the street, Pam, who gave them.  There was this impulse inside that I couldn't ignore and yet I couldn't pull it out on my own. I needed a guide, a helper to let me use music as my language to express all the things I was feeling at fourteen.

Piano was my therapy. Oh, I abused it sometimes. I can still hear my mother yelling from the kitchen in our home in Wisconsin, "Stop banging on the piano!"  But when I'd play well and sit down and easily push out a Clementi Sonatina or sweat through some Debussy, she'd come lay on the couch while she waited for dinner to cook and say, "I love to listen to you play." And when I'd play an offertory song at church, usually on Father's Day, sometimes my dad got teary.  Maybe my therapy actually came in the words of affirmation I received.

I continued piano lessons all the way through High School.  I would proudly tote my binder of books with me to practice in the music rooms during study hall. I planned a Junior Recital with my teacher and a Senior Recital with my friends from school who were also in the band. Oh yeah, your mom was in the band.  She played a clarinet for 8 years of her life and marched in a zillion things and did fruit fundraisers and competed in Florida and won awards and all that.  But band wasn't really about the music, it was about the community. Piano was about the music, about the expression, about having a voice.

There were only two pieces that I ever really wanted to get good enough to play.  One was Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini which I attempted at both my Junior and Senior Recitals. The Junior Recital turned out okay but at the Senior recital I utterly murdered it, which was so embarrassing in front of all my friends. If my best friend and I hadn't have nailed the funny Victor Borge duet all would have been lost.

The other piece was called Sing Your Praise to the Lord that an old Christian music artist, Amy Grant, recorded. That one began with a Bach Fugue that absolutely thrilled me because I loved all the technicality of Bach. I learned this piece later in life, after I was married to your dad and all of your grandparents went in together one year to buy me a full-size, electric, 88 weighted key piano.  I began taking lessons yet again from a flamboyant woman, Beth, who was ADD with two inch nails.  She always assumed the best in me which, of course, always exceeded my talent. For four years, she taught me to be a worship leader from the keyboard, which I became in a B-string sort of way in my church.  And she also taught me that song.

When our church worship band got together to practice I had been working on SYPTTL for a long time and they loved it and they followed my lead and we nailed that piece to the wall several times, to my great enjoyment and worship (truthfully). This was kind of the apex for me. I didn't have any other pieces hanging out there calling me to learn them. I was eight months pregnant with you, going to seminary, working full-time and it felt like playing piano was this lingering coal in a fire that was going out.

After you were born, I tried to practice some and it always got your attention, just as it had when you were in the womb. I remember when you were in your busy-being-formed stage that whenever I would play you would quit kicking me from the inside. This was a helpful discovery.  But it was also formational for you, all tucked away waiting to be born with nothing to do but learn to love music. When you came out and made eye contact with us all slippery and new, you had rhythm. You still do. You're welcome.

And then you started toddling around, pulling yourself up on everything and sometimes that included the keyboard while I was trying to practice. That just became too much to take on, so I closed the fall board and that was that.

Here's the thing. When I was five I wrote my first poem. When I was turning sixteen I wrote a book and passed it out to all my friends on my birthday. When I was 20 I declared an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing.  When I was 36 I started blogging and writing articles online. And I've kept a consistent journal since I was in college.  Though I miss the music sometimes, the words have always been the thing that called me forth. While piano was a skill I learned, it was never a talent that I had. But words just come whether I want them to or not. I don't need a guide. And these are the gifts we need to pay attention to.

You're wondering what your purpose is in the world. To that I say, let your life speak. Your true vocation comes out of who you are which, of course, is fueled by what you love. Pay attention to that and you'll know when it's time to know.  In the meantime, practice something, anything, that inspires you.  And even if it isn't the thing that you end up doing, as you're making that discovery it just might be the thing that determines the direction for someone else.

We're all connected. God doesn't waste anything.

Love, Mom