Mary and You

Mary Oliver is a poet. She died last year. Perhaps I should ramble through the details of her life, the awards she’s won, a few choice words from those who appreciate her dearly. I could mention the scholarly papers which have analyzed her style and messages.

Or …

I could leave all that alone
And simply have Mary knock on your door …

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean
the one who has flung herself out of the grass
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Building

I wonder why I’m here. Or maybe I don’t … I know I’m here to love. I’m here to enhance the juiciness of life. I’m here to open my palm to everyone I meet.

It’s such a journey – from infant to senior, from me to we, from scared of you to embracing you.

The two of us … what shall we build together?

I enjoy the story about the traveler in the middle ages who happened upon a large work site in the center of a village. He had been traveling for many days, and he was eager to talk to anyone who would engage with him.

He walked up to a worker at the site and asked, “Sir, may I ask what you are doing?”

The worker scowled a bit and said tersely, “I am cutting stones.”

The traveler decided he would find little conversation there, so he moved on to another worker. When he asked the same question, the worker paused for a moment and explained that he was cutting stones so he could support his family.

He had a wonderful wife and two small children who depended on him to provide them with food and shelter. They chatted about the project and the village for a few minutes, and the worker turned back to his large pile of stones.

The traveler moved to a third worker and asked the same question: “Sir, may I ask what you are doing?”

The worker put down his tools, stood quite tall, looked the traveler in the eye and said with a warm smile, “I am building a cathedral. It will be the tallest and most magnificent structure for miles around. Its beauty will delight people for centuries to come. The stone I am now working on will go near the front door where people will enter for shelter and kinship. I will probably not see the final product, but I know my work is part of something very important.”

(Lyn Boyer)

Let us lift our eyes to the Lord … to the beauty and kindness and intelligence of all who come our way. Higher and higher, to the light above the clouds.

The Silent Piano … Speaks

For a few years in the 1980’s, I was a volunteer manager at Lethbridge Regional Hospital in Alberta.  I saw a new modern building being erected, one with a sky-high atrium of glass.  In the middle stood a grand piano.  It took me awhile, but one lunch hour I strode over to the black magnificence and sat down.

Thirty years earlier, I ventured a few blocks from home for my evening piano lessons.  It was work.  It was mistake upon mistake.  It was an edict from above not embraced by this little guy below.

In the time between, I had somehow made friends with the piano.  I had let go of trying to read music and just experimented with the fingers moving on the keys.  Could I “play by ear”?  Not really, but melodies appeared now and then.

There were a few people lounging in the hospital atrium and I didn’t mind.  I raised my hands to the white-and-black, trusting that pleasant sounds would emerge.  And they did.  Simple fare, yes, but pleasing to the ear.  After my initial foray into courage, I returned to the piano many times to nourish myself and others.

And then I was laid off.  Piano playing ceased.  I tucked it neatly onto my raft of memories and watched the music sail away.

After Jody and I moved to London, Ontario in 1990, the need to tickle the ivories seeped back. I tried to ignore the urge.  We moved to Union in 1994 and the music in my head persisted. Somewhere along the road we bought a Roland keyboard.

I had my moments where the music flowed from the fingers again, where the unknown melodies soared.  Most of the time, though, what the piano gathered around itself was dust.

Since 2016, I’ve lived in Belmont.  The keyboard sits in a place of honour in my bedroom, looking out the tall windows to the field beyond.  The candleholder perched on top reminds me of what the instrument has become – an environment for soft evening light cast against the bedroom walls.  A setting, rather than the centrepiece.

Enough.

It’s time to play.  Half an hour ago I did, first brushing the accumulation of years from the piano bench.  I felt awkward.  Discordant, along with some of the notes I hit.  But there was memory too … of an atrium, of simple melody, of folks glancing over to me from the edges of their newspapers.

I asked myself “What do you know about playing piano?”  “Not much” came back.  But that’s not true.  Even though I don’t at this moment recollect how to string a melody together, how to spontaneously let the hands flow, I know this can return.  And I know that if I play in the key of C Major, I can add chords that go with it, such as F Major, G Major, D Minor, E Minor and A Minor.  Just like on the guitar, I can create.

A few minutes ago, a loose feeling came along, just a hint of the ease of decades ago.  I smiled.  It’s been a long time.

I’m so taken with the hit song from the film A Star Is Born.  It’s called Shallow.  On Sunday night, it just might win the Oscar for Best Song.  I’m going to listen to it on my phone now.  Then I’m going into the bedroom and give ‘er a go on the piano.  Stay tuned.

***

Oh my God – it’s in the key of G.  Lady Gaga is blasting the song and I’m stumbling along the whites and an F# black … to the melody!  Yes, stumbling is the word but so what?  It’s a beginning.  I can do this.  Once I have the melody, I can add the major and minor chords in the left hand.  And soon, wonder upon wonders, I can sing the words while I play.  I can put it all together.  I can do this!

And so I will