Sunday afternoon, I met three of our daughters at Michelle’s Pianos in Portland. Susanna had flown in from Boise in order to select and purchase a piano. When she and her husband had married, Collin told her he wanted to her to have a good piano someday. Susanna had been a piano performance major, so this promise meant lots. They began saving then, and now, 10 years later it was time to make the purchase. Buying a piano is an investment, for certain. And standing in contrast to our “put it on credit” culture, they saved until they could pay cash.
I arrived first. I parked on the corner by Michelle’s just one block from several tents, covered in plastic tarps. These tents are home to several men and women living houseless on the streets of Portland. Such need. “Lord, those brothers and sisters,” I breathed. What privileges I have, driving up in my heated car. Across the street a line of people stood outside of the store Next Adventure waited to purchase skis and boots at the Spring sale. There on one Portland street, the houseless neighbors — living meal to meal — a piano store where instruments range in price from under $10,000 to over $100,000, to bargain hunters. Such contrasts surrounded me.
I stepped inside Michelle’s and was welcomed by Lotof. When I told him why I’d come, he said, with a rich accent, “Oh, your daughter, she is a wonderful person. I have enjoyed speaking with her over the phone. Come in, come in. Do you play?”
“My daughters play the piano; I just play at the piano!” I confessed.
“It matters not, it matters not,” he said. “Come.” He led me through the store around to the back corner where five Hoffman pianos were arranged side by side. Arriving at the third in line, he stopped and said, “Here is the piano she wanted to try. We just got this shipment of Hoffman pianos from Germany. The shipment was delayed 10 days due to storms across the Atlantic. So, finally when it reached Seattle, our trucks we sent to bring the instruments here. But, this is a beautiful instrument. We only needed to tune it one time and it has held the tune. Here. I insist. Play!” And with that, Rudy left me with Hr. Hoffman, the piano from Germany.
I sat before this beautiful, never-before-played piano. The labor and craftsmanship which went into making it all for the purpose of helping someone make music flow from it, astounded me. I don’t have much music inside of me that I can make exit my fingers. But I played my one song and then some chords and loved the deep, mellow richness of the piano’s sound.
I was nervous someone would hear me!
The girls arrived, abounding with laughter and conversation. Grace had met Susanna’s 7:20 A.M. flight. And then, picked up Gabri and the three had hung out together for five hours, talking, laughing, and enjoying lunch at a local Thai place. After I hugged them, Susanna sat down at the Hoffman and began to play. It was exquisite as such sound filled the room far surpassing anything my fingers could manage. The waves of sound washed over me.
Lotof came over to Susanna, saying, “You can have a job here, anytime. Just come in and play the pianos!”
She tried out a few other pianos within her price range, then Lotof invited her to try a Boston grand near the front of the store. This piano sat near windows and on a cement floor. Lotof covered the floor with a packing blanket to help muffle the sounds as carpet had done for the Hoffman. As she played it, a sigh came from her lips. “The sound is so bright!” she exuded.
While loving the sound, we returned to the Hoffman. Susanna played one of the pieces she had brought with her. While there, Justin arrived, Grace’s boyfriend, also a professional musician. By then, Susanna was deciding between the Hoffman and the Boston. After Susanna played a particular selection of music on the Hoffman, Grace suggested playing the same selection on the Boston. So, we returned to the front of the store.
Susanna played into the piece and then stopped. Here’s when Justin spoke. “How does the music make you feel as it comes from this piano?” As she was working to decide from a place of logical comparison, Justin’s question surprised her. He had exposed her heart, asking in essence, does this piano make your heart and soul sing?
Lotof had told me earlier, “The right piano is the one which feels right to the person playing it. Brand then matters little. What matters is that the person playing connects and feels like this is their piano.”
As I listened Justin led her question by question to consider not just the sound, quality and timbre but the heart, her heart. Was this her piano?
Listening, I realized, I had come to be a witness to an event in Susanna’s life, not to participate in the decision making. Therefore, I had intentionally held myself back.
But, I watched as Justin, who will be an official member of our family in the not-too-distant-future, took on the role of an older brother. He stepped into an aspect of the advisor role I had had for years as Susanna’s dad. I had stepped out of that role when she married. But as I watched the unfolding conversation, I realized anew. This was right. In the next decades I will be moving on from this realm and be out of my children’s lives entirely. They must rely upon one another.
This aging business is strange and challenging! And death is a certainty, so might as well face it. But just like the piano store had more than one room filled with pianos, so, exiting this life is more like moving from one room to another, than like a distant departure. In both realms to be surrounded by beauty and relationships.
As I will be moving on and it gives my heart such joy to see our children become each others’ best friends, surrounded by deep, lasting, significant relationships with others. Later that evening, I was able to tell Justin what a gift it was to see him step into that role. I thanked him for being another safe male in Susanna’s world.
Treasure your relationships. Keep investing in this life moment by moment, for all the moments you have before you too, move on.