I think the young woman’s name was Linda.

Through the, 5th, 6th, and  7th grade and maybe into the 8th, I spent one afternoon, for one hour a week, almost every week, at her house.

Learning to play the piano. Well, sort of.

Let me explain.

During my 5 or 6 months of beginning lessons, learning the scales and notes was sufficiently exciting that I excelled. Because I practiced a lot. The next step towards proficiency relied upon faster sight reading synced to muscle memory and movement of fingers across keys. It poses the same barrier of activation that speed typing or stenography or any other activity that requires that you get to the point that you quit thinking your way through something and rely on brain and repetitive memory of fine muscles to get you there.

I never got there.

I balked. Or was lazy. Or too undisciplined and once I discovered an easier work around I didn’t even try.

I found I could slowly sight read through the notes and rhythms and once to the end, except for a few minor holes, I would have effectively ‘written’ the piece into my memory. All that was left to do was apply the notes in my head to appropriate finger movement, while watching my fingers. Instead of honing that muscle memory.

Strange strategy to my way of thinking now but I was  different then. Back then, my young, vibrant brain was quite efficient at memory exercises and rather than hone a new set of neural pathways, I chose to  just use the ones already in practice.

Linda (I didn’t call her by her first name) was excited in my neophyte months and exasperated all the  months after. Piano lessons became a chore at which I would pray every week something mildly catastrophic would happen so that I wouldn’t have to go. Not being able to sight read very fast and almost no practice during the week, allowed any musical promise I had to dissolve into a painfully, slow disappointing weekly hour in which Linda must surely have doubted her desire to teach piano.

Me? After every tortured hour, I left lighthearted, music execution stayed one more week  and I would promise myself I would do better starting the minute I got back home.

Which never happened.

It would be some years, married with small children and determined that they should have music in their lives, that the piano my father had laid 75 hours of concrete to acquire, was brought to Houston, tuned, and available.

And I did the same thing to my children.

I started them early and contrary to what happens when you have a succession of children, I was as diligent with the last as I was with the first.

Mind you, I had no prejudice that strictly included the piano nor would my sons limit themselves to that instrument. However, it’s my recollection that their practice at piano was equal to mine and if pushed to admit their weekly appointments with the teacher they would most likely echo my thoughts, albeit if with much less guilt and angst than I. Much to my wonderment they would eventually become quite decent sight readers and certainly more proficient in the art of music through high school music programs. They would certainly become expert appreciators of the unique place of music as a universal language of the soul.

It was Jake that came home from basic training, as a fine, fit, 19 year old, idealist and told me that one Sunday he had played the piano for the black church where he had worshiped.

I tried not to say “you did what?!?!”

“Yeah, they asked if anyone could play the piano and I figured I could just get up their and see if I could.”

Jake had learned a couple of guitar blues riffs from somewhere and figured they’d suffice in any kind of piano accompaniment might be required as the church worshiped in song.

“How did it go?” I asked, still dumbfounded.

“Really good. It was fun. I don’t know if they will ask me again,” he said, smiling in recollection of the service and the worship.

Later, it would be Jake that would sit at the piano in the corner of our living room and improvise, endlessly varying those few music phrases in a surprisingly number of entertaining ways until he went to Heaven. (It’s my bet they ask him to play frequently there.)

Now the strange thing is that since Jake went to Heaven, I have not been able to touch the keys of that piano. Granted my admission that I never achieved much sight reading proficiency as always been true, but over the years I did master more than a few pieces, mostly ones that allowed me emotional release, either from the sheer beauty of the music or because the songs meant something to me. Finding sheet music with a wide variety of styles and genre, I did love sitting down at the bench, placing my hands on the keys and pouring myself into the sounds. (What I have not told you is that while I lacked in determination and dedication for the mechanics, I did not need the “dynamic” notation placed at the beginning and throughout a piece of sheet music that indicated the ‘way’ a piece should be  played. From the beginning, that was obvious to me, both to my heart and my fingers.)

Just over a few months ago, I moved to sit on the bench of that piano. I merely sat there and thought. Weeks later sitting down again,  I placed my fingers on the keys. My fingers remembered nothing nor did my brain and I told myself “not yet” and thought “maybe never”.

I actually dream recurrently, of playing the piano. They are moments of unconscious slumber where I play effortlessly and perfectly. And always as dreams are wont to do, my ability is intertwined with the optimism of a son who would play for a church worship service based solely on minimal blues knowledge and the presence of the Holy Spirit  in the soul.

Last week, the house was quite and alone in the place, I sat down again.

And I played. In an odd mixture of ability remembered and new appreciation for how one learns or perhaps relearns, I played. Not perfectly or even as good as I used to, but now in my heart I know I am not yet finished trying or learning.

It will be 10 years since Jake went to Heaven come this October. The grief of the loss of his companionship has been a process. For some reason I suspect that Linda, a Christian as I recall, might also be in Heaven now. It occurs to me that as long ago that she suffered with me on those hourly visits, she had a role in my life in ways I doubt she would ever had suspected.

All of life is a process. At least the important things.  And it’s the journey through the process that matters. It pays to remember that and strive, to take each step, and with each step move in the right direction. What is the right direction you might ask. For those of you who have a secular or atheist leaning, all I can offer is “never give up”. Even in saying that I know you find my suggestion insufficient. Because it is. The reason is that it truly doesn’t fill the hole that some might pretend isn’t there, but everything about today and our history as humans point that there is. We have a hole in our hearts or minds or souls or wherever you want to place it that science or technology or anything short of faith and hope and love  just won’t fill.  As much as music truly speaks the words of a soul in ways that you cannot measure, faith and understanding of our place in the world in the light of something bigger than us is equally unmeasurable, more mysterious and valid beyond human logic.

I believe that all the little things we do each day, if we keep our mind centered on the creator of the universe, count for something. And it’s His plan for us to follow the process and let Him be in charge of the end. Because  more than merely comforting, this assures there is reason to life having a purpose in the midst of struggle, whether it be learning to play the piano, accepting loss or loving, in spite of everything.

A little piano music, Father. Me and Jake, when I get there? Yes, please!