If life is a highway, then we probably each have our gas pedals to the ground, pushing the speed limit, with very little opportunity to look out the window at the scenes racing past us. I sometimes wonder what we’re missing in this race to get everything accomplished in the shortest amount of time.
Last Saturday, in between a morning pumpkin patch visit and an evening dinner with friends, I found myself with an unexpected ten minutes of free time. Free time! It was astounding. Huck and The Professor were happily building a train layout together. Lancelot was checking the college football scores. Our lunch plates had been washed, the clean laundry was hung in our closets and there was no homework to help with. I looked around the playroom at a momentary loss, until my eyes fell on something I haven’t touched in quite some time – my piano.
There was dust on the bench and a half-finished puzzle on the music stand. I considered it for a moment, and then I thought, “Why the heck not?” Then I pulled out a battered old David Lanz songbook. I flipped the switch on the piano lamp, only to find out that the light bulb was burned out. I figured the sunlight would have to do. In moments, the sound of “Variations on a Theme from Pachebel’s Canon in D Major” filled our home, the notes filling my heart as much as they filled the silence around me.
The song took about seven minutes to play. While I was playing, a part of my brain took over the technical aspects and my creative right brain started to wander. I can’t tell you what I thought about specifically. My mind was just wandering as my fingers danced over the keys. I felt peaceful. I didn’t change the world in that short time. Nothing got cleaned, cooked or completed. It was just a really fun way to spend seven minutes of free time.
I’m a decent piano player, but I wouldn’t consider playing the piano a particularly useful way to pass the time. It doesn’t pay any bills, and playing alone in my home isn’t a way to enrich the world in any meaningful way. I’m decent, but not extraordinary. George Winston, I am not. I figure my skills are pretty on par with any other kid that took lessons for a few years, strummed out “Heart and Soul” at family gatherings and wanted to join Tom Hanks on a giant piano playing “Chopsticks” with his feet. Sure, I could teach piano someday – and I’ve made money in the past playing at funerals and weddings – but on the whole, playing the piano is a very benign hobby for me. It’s just a way to pass the time.
And I love it.
I don’t know about you, but I often look at tasks in our time-crunched world and weigh their worth in my mind, determining what is valuable and what is simply not worth the time investment. The valuable things are the necessary, the urgent and the important things we need to do. I often find myself justifying the “other” stuff I spend time doing. Running is cathartic for me, and I can justify it in the name of exercise. Yoga is healing, and I can validate it as therapeutic for my muscles. Scrapbooking is a way to preserve my kids’ memories and therefore a pretty valuable thing for a mom to do. But what about the extraneous stuff? There are many things I’d love to do, but I don’t see the immediate benefit and therefore I feel like they are simply a waste of time. For example – what’s the point in playing the piano, if it doesn’t benefit my family or myself in some tangible way? Why learn to speak French if it’s not very common for Americans to encounter French-speaking individuals? Why learn a new recipe if it’s so spicy that no one will want to try it more than once?
Well, why not play the piano? Why not learn to speak French? Why not make Lancelot’s head sweat with a jalapeno-filled one-dish wonder?
Life is short, and we try to cram in as much stuff as we can. Life is too short not to work hard. But isn’t life also too short not to play the piano?
We aren’t robots. We are thinking, feeling, loving, creating, growing, developing human beings. Human beings, not human doings – and yet, we so often act like we have to get stuff done in order to have worth. Maybe we’re thinking about it all wrong.
Life is too short for me to deny myself the simple pleasure of playing a song on the piano. It’s too short for me not to breathe in the crisp autumn air on the walk into preschool. It’s too short not to spend time doing silly, frivolous fun things that we love, simply for the joy of doing them.
On Sunday, our busy life was back to normal. We went to a playground and the grocery store, and we met some friends for a playdate. I packed school lunches and put homework folders into backpacks. I didn’t play the piano on Sunday. But I did remember to pick up a bulb for that burned out piano lamp – for next time.
Because life is way too short for me not to play the piano.