The Blog

What gives you pause?
December 12, 2019

the YamahaThe Entertainer” gave me fits in high school. I was finishing up eight years of piano lessons, and I wanted to master that song. I came close, if memory serves. And I probably drove my parents and brothers and sisters crazy, playing it over and over and over.

We were at the mall in Fargo recently when I heard it. The melody was unmistakable, and the execution was flawless. “Is that a player piano?” I asked Darrell, who had a better view of the proceedings. “Nope,” he said. “Some kid’s playing.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. Pause. “Follow me.” We gathered up our things and joined the crowd that had gathered round. It was a dozen or so young women, which reminded me of what I’d once heard was the reason Billy Joel started playing -- to attract women. I worked my way through that crowd and saw a twelve-year-old boy at the keyboard. He finished “The Entertainer” and started taking requests. “The Entertainer!” I suggested, to much laughter. “I’m sorry I’m late to this party,” I added, “but I tried to learn this song in high school, and I’d love to watch you play it again. Would you mind?”

Oh, God no! Not from the look on his face. Which was (and I have a good reason for telling you this) pimply and a bit doughy. While not altogether unfortunate-looking, as Elle Woods might say, you could imagine him being teased in school for being a little overweight or whatever. But you know what? He was developing the not-so-secret weapon of sharing his considerable gifts, and considering the smile he flashed me and the others as he happily obliged my request his future looked so bright it practically burned my eyes.

I gushed, his mother gushed right back, and I bonded with the others who felt as lucky as I did we’d chosen this particular afternoon to shop.

When I told Katie about this she guessed I’d changed the kid’s life, right there. “You’re nothing if not a cheerleader,” she pointed out.

From the mall we went to Lowe’s, where a store employee did such a fine job cutting a piece of glass to Darrell’s exact specifications I found myself gushing again. I wouldn’t have thought anything of that, except I happened to catch a glimpse of another employee as I did. The look on his face told me he wasn’t necessarily used to such enthusiastic displays of appreciation.

Maybe it doesn’t matter so much how far I get with my work. Maybe it’s more important to have appreciated others for theirs.

A summer breeze floats into an auditorium on a college campus in Omaha. I’m old enough to have driven myself there, but young enough to be in awe of the setting. I’m wearing an orange cotton dress. I feel beautiful, even though orange isn’t really my color and feeling beautiful isn’t really my style.

There’s a grand piano on the stage, and someone’s practicing for the big event. I descend the stairs to my seat as a few other early arrivals do the same. I’m breathless with anticipation.

That’s it. That’s the extent of my memory.

It lingers because all of life spread out before me then. It felt sacred. Classical music dancing on a summer breeze? It became the soundtrack for the work of art I hoped my life would be.

Many years later I was at the library when a woman who lives a couple of houses down from ours told me how much she’d enjoyed hearing Katie practicing piano the night before.

Really? The sound carried that far?

Uncharacteristically I felt no urge to apologize. All I could think of was that summer evening I just told you about, long before I knew there’d be a Katie.

Someone once described a child as a love letter to a future we cannot see.

Something tells me that future’s going to be pretty cool.


This post was originally published on February 10th, 2014. At the time Katie said it was her favorite -- so far. Is that why all these years later, it’s still my favorite -- so far?