Even after an early childhood fiasco involving piano lessons, my desire to play the piano bubbled back to the surface. When I was 10, I nervously talked to my dad about my interest, promising him I would practice. I began lessons with a man whose home was within walking distance from my school and home. About two months into this weekly ritual, I found myself racked with guilt on the day of my lesson: I hadn’t been practicing. Instead of walking from school to my piano lesson, as I normally did, I hid behind my parents’ garage.
My parents’ blue Chevy station wagon remained parked in their detached garage. The car had a clock that I checked as I planned my next move. As soon as it would be my usual time for returning from my lesson to my parent’s home, I reasoned, I would walk back into the house as though I had gone to the lesson. I had not planned for what unfolded. Within a half hour or so of hiding, I heard my parents talking about me. They said something about calling the police and creating a search party to find me. They drove away in the station wagon, leaving me without a clock. I no longer had any idea what time it was or what I should do.
Some part of me didn’t believe they really had called the police. Why, after all, would my mother want to find me? My mother loathed me. Most days it seemed she wanted me to die or disappear, and she did everything in her power to terrorize me.
Crouching down, I drew in the dirt. I heard my stomach growl. As the air turned colder on this late autumn evening, darkness descended, and I finally decided it was safe to leave my hiding spot. As I walked down the long driveway, I saw a group of people and a police officer. Now I was terrified, but I could not run anywhere.
People approached me. I heard cries “We found her! She’s here!”
I vaguely remember my parents hugging me. Mostly I remember the police officer questioning me. Terrified, I concocted a complete lie. At this point, to admit I didn’t want to go to a piano lesson seemed ridiculous. I made up a story about being chased by a male college student. I felt so scared that I hid behind my parents’ garage until I thought he had disappeared. It seemed like something that could have happened, and in those days, my mind easily created dangerous people attempting to hurt me. The police officer took lots of notes while mentioning several times how many people cared about me. I barely took in this information because it didn’t match my reality.
Finally, inside my parent’s home, I began to eat the dinner they had kept warm on the stove. My mother shared that my piano teacher had called earlier in the day to cancel my piano lesson, which felt like some great cosmic joke. If I had walked into my house after school and shared that I hadn’t practiced and that I didn’t want to go to my lesson, I would have learned this news. I wouldn’t have caused this hullabaloo by “running away.” I had a couple more lessons with this man, but then he took a break from teaching piano.
About two years later, I took lessons with a female college student named Margie. I walked to Sanborn Hall after school once a week. We worked in a small practice room. Buoyed by her kindness and patience, I grew confident in my skills as I learned to read music and play classical pieces. I found that I could transfer my skill set to Christmas carols as well as popular music, which thrilled me.
My beloved Grandma Hope (my dad’s mom), who in my childhood was one of a couple of unconditionally loving adults, enjoyed the sound of piano music immensely. Because I knew her favorite Christmas song was “O Holy Night,” I memorized this piece, then played it for her each time she and my grandfather visited our home during the holidays. Delighted by this simple gift of a song, she hugged and kissed me with tears in her eyes. She had been the person to teach me the feeling of a genuine hug and kiss in my childhood. My love of playing for my grandma combined with her heartfelt appreciation created a new story for me that I could hold onto. I finally had a loving, powerful, and positive association with playing the piano, in addition to my abiding bond with Grandma Hope.
My grandma’s loving kindness towards me never wavered.
One time when I woke up with a stiff neck that had my head “frozen” in a seemingly haughty position, facing right, the members of my family laughed while making cruel jokes. Unaffected by the pain I reported, they thought I looked ridiculously “stuck-up.” Any movement to center my head created waves of excruciating pain. To escape their taunting, I hid in the closet of the bedroom I shared with my sister. A bit later, I heard my grandparents arrive. Soon after, Grandma Hope found me and brought me food as I cried pouring out my pain to her. She spoon-fed me while listening deeply to my hurt over my family’s jokes.
She also believed me when I told her about the severe pain I had in my neck. She gently coaxed me out of the closet. We went downstairs to be with the rest of my family. She stayed by my side most of the afternoon. When she left my side, she must have convinced my parents to get me to a doctor. Later that day, I saw a doctor who prescribed pain medication with a muscle relaxer, which finally gave me some relief from the physical pain. I will forever remember Grandma Hope’s compassion and care when my family would not hear me.
My grandma passed away while I was in graduate school. Some part of me died with her. I did not know how to grieve the loss of my favorite family member, a lifeline in the chaos of my childhood. Not once did she back away from her love and belief in me. Not once did she betray me or criticize me. She saw my beauty, my sweetness, my strength, and my courage. I felt her kindness and belief in me every moment I was in her presence.
After I left my childhood home, I didn’t have a piano in my life until about a decade ago. I found a used one for an affordable price. My then-husband agreed to purchase it. I sobbed each time I sat in front of the ebony and ivory keys, discovering that I had much healing to do. I persisted. Mostly I played when no one was home. Then weeks went by when I did not play. The grief and pain of the past overwhelmed me. Occasionally, I returned to this piano to teach myself “I’ve Dreamed of You” by Barbra Streisand. At Christmas, I managed to play “O Holy Night.”
As life with teenagers took over my time, their friends gathered at our homes frequently. The piano became a mostly unnoticed piece of furniture. Occasionally someone would play it. I’d remember how much I loved this sound. When my marriage ended, I knew I would have to part with this instrument. I sent out word to my network. A family indicated that they would appreciate this piano. I gave it to them with love.
The day the piano left our home, I truly understood what my feng shui clients might feel when they must part with a belonging that evokes both love and pain. As the piano left, I felt grief and shame for not having played it more often, for not bravely pushing beyond my tortured memories, my grief. Yet I had no time to dwell on it. My deeply mixed feelings about playing the piano were pushed aside as I focused on bringing a legal end to the marriage, helping my children with their transitions, taking care of my new home, and growing my business. But my heart remembered my love for playing the piano, and the positive memories flickered inside.
As I settled into my new home after the divorce, I continued to discern which belongings needed to leave my life. I also noticed a yearning for a piano. It felt like a slight tug on my heart. I mentioned it to a few friends. More challenges rolled into my life, and I no longer thought about a piano.
It was late November a year later. My daughter called me to share she will be with a friend in London at Christmastime. I felt thrilled for her because I studied in London as a junior in college and fell in love with the city. My son remained in California to continue building his life there. Although I missed him every day, I felt grateful he was well and sober. Then I realized with a jolt that I would be alone with my dog on Christmas morning for the first time in my life. I called friends to make plans for the afternoon of Christmas Day.
As I turned the calendar to December, a quiet yet compelling multisensory memory of my Grandma Hope watching me play the piano captured my attention. I imagined my fingers on the keys and felt the love we had for each other. Then I quickly shifted into the present moment and the potatoes boiling on the stove, the chicken baking in the oven. These images with sensations persisted for a few more days.
Three weeks before Christmas, a text came from my friend Cathy, who lived in my neighborhood. “Do you still want a piano?”
Without hesitation, I replied that I did. She connected me to a mutual neighbor named Steve, with whom I had a brief conversation on the phone confirming that I would be at my home to receive the piano. I knew exactly where it would be placed. After Cathy, Steve, and I exchanged another flurry of texts, a white moving truck pulled into my driveway. Like a Christmas miracle, this beautiful piano came rolling into my home. I tipped the movers and profusely thanked them. When I shut the door, I fell to my knees, no longer able to contain a wailing, sobbing cry of gratitude, of joy. I stood up, wiped my eyes, and walked over to her.
“Hello, Hope.” I sat on the wooden bench and played “O Holy Night.”
Earth angels can show up as people and beloved gifts. May you experience them everywhere. May you become an Earth Angel for others. Kindness matters.
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately supports people thriving by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, and life. Laura is the published author of four books including Live Inspired which reveals the brave and deep work of self-discovery and her new book of short writings and poetry Abundant Heart: Thoughts on Healing, Loving, and Living Free where with her characteristic grace and candor, Laura shares thoughtful-sometimes comical reflections on healing, loving and living free as inspirational pathways for experiencing a soul-centered, fulfilled life.