When my mum said not to rush into things, I suspect she didn’t mean leaving 58 years between one piano lesson and another. But life slips away. One minute I’m a timid eight year old petrified of my teacher and her imposing grand piano. The next I’m laughing with my new teacher, a young piano and viola musician, at how much fun scales can be.
There is the slight problem of eye hand coordination. My daughter discovered the extent of this when trying to teach me to play golf. In the unlikely event that my club and ball connected, the gain was a couple of measly metres. She laughed, a lot. In my defence, she did go on to play international indoor cricket, whereas I’d only ever been allowed to retrieve my brother’s boundary shots from the neighbour’s backyard.
Roll on several decades and my fingers trip over each other as I try to get them properly placed while playing scales. The rhythm is interrupted as my brain struggles to cope with two competing demands. The hope of smooth sound pulls me forward as I try to untangle my fingers, wondering why I chose to put myself through this exquisite torture.
No question, there are benefits for older people in getting both sides of the brain to work in sync. There can be enhancements in creative thinking, problem solving and memory. All useful, but not the only reason I’m plonking away at the ivories again.
At the root is all that work I’ve been doing in Jungian dream analysis. Spending time in the company of my dreams has brought to the surface the need to integrate all the parts of me; the good, the not so good and the downright embarrassing.
So, I’ve turned into a soul archaeologist. Digging around in the debris of my past, not in a pathological sense, but as a way to uncover buried treasure that needs to be brought to the surface, dusted off and integrated with who and what I am now. A bit like redoing a jigsaw puzzle and ending up with quite a different and more satisfying picture second time around.
Beautiful music is one of those integrating forces beyond my conscious understanding that calls me to the task. It did the same for the characters in Marie Doria Russell’s startling science fiction novel, The Sparrow. Compelling music called them from outer space, so they went in search of its source and meaning. It was complicated.
I studied The Sparrow in my training as a priest and it proved to be one of the most significant and lasting theological influences for me. Perhaps because the story makes it crystal clear that people have to follow the path to which they are called, regardless of the outcome and the power of institutions or systems that interrupt it.
However, nothing might have come of the music for me but for a random pub conversation. My friends were talking about the problem of their piano as they contemplated moving cities. ‘What do you want for it?’ I found myself asking. ‘We just want it to have a good home,’ they said. Presto! The deal was done. Now I practise most days but I’m not sure I’ll progress past scales or that golf will become a viable option. But that’s not the point.
Instead, the point is reinterpreting the call and purpose of my life to match this time and place. Knowing that all the existing pieces of the puzzle matter but that they need to be creatively re-ordered to help me make soulful sense of the ageing process and my developing role in the world. Easy does it though. As mum said, best not to rush things.
Image: Sounding Silence by Michael Cheval