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When I was 12 years old, my mother invested in lessons from my third and final piano teacher. It was her last attempt at helping to bring out the inner musician she always knew was in there somewhere. It was a man this time, an older gentleman. He was calmer than the previous two which made him more likable. He also explained a lot more about music theory than the others. I’m not sure much of that stuck with me, but some did. After one of my final lessons, this fine gentleman met with my mother and bragged about how far I had come and how well I was doing with the pieces he’d given me to play - even the more difficult ones. I didn’t have the heart to tell her later that after the first few notes, he usually fell sound asleep during my lessons, even snoring in tempo with the music. Of course, I sure wasn’t going to wake him, but just smiled and nodded politely when he’d jerk suddenly, look up and ask, “All finished?” “Sure am,” I’d reply with conviction.

Years later, I probably made just as many attempts to “bring out the music” in our two daughters through the help and training of various piano teachers. They learned enough of the basics to develop an interest in playing musical instruments and joined the band - which was much more fun, they explained. And they certainly excelled, even without the help of a sleeping teacher. My mother was instrumental in making sure we had a good piano for her granddaughters to spend hours sharing their beautiful music with the family. After a while, I, too, gave up the constant nagging to keep practicing piano and decided to choose other battles to fight instead - keeping their grades up, reading more books, exercising, joining groups and clubs, etc., in order to become well-rounded, young humans ready to take on the world.

During the pandemic, I searched for ways to continue to amuse myself and use my brain. I walked into the room where our piano had stood untouched for at least 10 years (at least by me). My husband was outside doing yard work (I still am not comfortable playing in front of him or others), so I sorted through the books in the piano bench until I found the two I remembered most from my youth. I centered myself on the slightly uncomfortable bench, placed my fingers in “middle C” position, and opened to one of my favorites. At first, it felt strange and unfamiliar; but the more I played, the more so much of it came rushing back to my mind, heart, and soul. As with smelling certain scents, a music selection can transport you back to a time in your life long since forgotten. The first few times I played, I would cry through almost every piece I played. I don’t really know what brought forth those emotions, but I just went with it and continued playing every chance I got.

During the fall of our second pandemic year, I experienced a detached retina in my left eye which required immediate surgery to save my eyesight. This is not a surgery or recovery for the faint of heart, I assure you. In my case, I was required to sit or lie in a face-down position for most hours of the day, taking breaks only for meals and bathroom visits. I could look at my phone for 10 minutes each day, again with my head down. Thankfully, after a few months, my vision began to return. It was a “new normal,” as with life after a pandemic. The contact lens specialist worked with me as my eye continued to heal and my vision continued to change - we tried multiple lenses before settling on a satisfactory strength.

One afternoon, I decided to take a seat back on the bench to play the piano. Try as I might, even though there was some muscle memory left, my eyes just could not follow the notes. It was as if the right and left eye could no longer work together, and my left eye would express its own form of anger with me. This time the tears flowed from pain and the severe disappointment of losing something that I so recently had the joy of rediscovering.

Over time, my eye adjusted and learned to cooperate more and more, and I was able once again to enjoy playing. Excited over this and the writing I had grown to love, at the recommendation of a friend, I signed up for a writer’s workshop in Montana. I was off on my own for a new adventure, another way to expand my brain’s capacity late in life and post-pandemic! At the airport on my way to board the plane, my luggage flipped over. In the rush to hide my embarrassment by showing I was perfectly capable of heaving this heavy, overloaded piece of luggage to its proper rolling position, I heard a loud pop, experienced the worst pain since labor, and my knees hit the floor. Again embarrassed, I gathered myself and stood with the room spinning and stars floating by and headed to the closest restroom.

I kept saying to myself, I am going on this trip! My mind said, call your husband, go home. I AM FINE, my heart shouted back…well, maybe it was more of a whimper. My right arm hung awkwardly and I could no longer push or pull the bag. So, I hooked my rather large “personal-item” purse on top and proceeded to do pretty much everything else for the rest of the week with my non-dominant left arm and hand. I did tell my husband when I called home that I had hurt my shoulder pretty badly, but I was sure it would be okay; and I swallowed my pride and apologized for arguing against using a lighter weight, less full carry-on bag. Those who know me will laugh when they read this statement: I have a slight stubborn streak. It was never okay. There were many sleepless nights and a few doors that slammed in my face as I attempted but was unable to stop them from closing with my usually strong right arm. The real blessings were that my new friends at the retreat became aware something wasn’t quite right and helped every chance they could, and that I could still manage to write by resting my arm on the chair and carefully balancing the pencil on the notebook. Side note: I had actually tested writing in my brand new journal while at the airport, figuring that would definitely make the decision easier for me.

Maybe you’ve anticipated where this is going and are wondering how and when I’m going to finally get there. It was a complete tear of the rotator cuff, requiring surgery as soon as possible. After another long recovery with months of ice, my “bionic arm” machine, and rehab, it seemed my arm had reached close to its original range of motion. Hallelujah!

I sat down at the piano to another disappointing and painful attempt at playing my familiar and comforting music. My shoulder was having none of it, and it wasn’t something I was adept at enough to just “hand” over to my left arm to finish the job.

Close to a year following surgery, I am once again playing and enjoying it immensely. The tears don’t come as often because I am so washed over with gratitude that I have one more chance to enjoy this use of my mind and body without pain or irregular vision.

Sure, I have some arthritis now and then that comes with age, but I force my way through “Zorba’s Dance” (one of my favorites) that really stretches the tendons and joints and then move on to the easier ones.

The lessons I learned and hope to pass on:

1- Don’t wait years to do something you once enjoyed and would love to do again.

2- Don’t take your health and wellbeing for granted, not even for one brief moment.

3- Be thankful and filled with awe at the miraculous way your body works to heal itself and uses other parts to carry the load while the injured parts recover.

4- As with the supporting body parts, accept help and (some) advice from friends and family who care about you.

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Patti Brennan
Patti Brennan
Jul 11, 2023

I love this as I recently started back playing the piano. I loved it and that muscle memory came back—-all of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. sings. You have inspired me with all of this post. You are a trooper! I can only hope I can handle things that will happen to me in the future with such positivity.


I love to see you writing again ... This one REALLY spoke to me.

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