I think about buying a piano for my house, for my young children, nearly four years, the girl, and nearly seven months, the boy.
The piano served as a point of argument for my parents when I was young, at the tail end of their marriage. The intensity of my father in my piano study frightened her, and it frightened me. He would have me practice, Wild Horses by Hayden. When I didn’t perform to his expectations, he would shake me. I remember this being a breaking point in my study of the instrument, and I stopped taking lessons after performing the work; I’m told the work was finely performed, and my prowess as a precocious pianist much admired.
My teacher was an older woman, a former child prodigy who debuted at the age of ten with a prominent symphony. This association helped form the association between my childhood and the narrative of the child prodigy, thwarted by the laxness of his disorganized mother.
There’s a past age of symphonies and orchestras, of geniuses in music that I touched, if ever so briefly. I’ll speak with people who studied with blind opera singers, legendary personages who seemed like characters in a Greek tragedy. I’ve studied with organists, those who worked this giant baroque machines, two and three stories tall, which dwarf the imagination. Theaters and concert halls and gothic churches, a bygone era before electric amplification.
There’s a tension in my own thinking. On one side is the Nietzschean desire to form greatness, to encourage greatness, to reward the strong and remove the barriers from their path. In this line of thinking, I see my father, impatient, strong, disciplined, demanding, unsmiling, a man of science tasked with raising three impudent young geniuses, who stubbornly refused to work hard enough to realize their potential. Now sitting, great oafs, watching television and growing fatter by the day. Much like this image of grown up Huey Dewie and Louie from Ducktales Duck to the Future, a VHS cassette we had when I was seven or eight, that we watched again and again. Really, it’s another version of A Christmas Carol.
On the other side is my mother, the feminine giver, with her Christian ethic of nonviolence, of harmony and peace, helping others, reaching out to the underserved and those in need. This is the version of my ethics that I’ve pursued, the idea of Jesus helping the least fortunate.
And I’m at this place in my life, where I have no guide. I’ve long surpassed the width and breadth of my mother’s and Father’s lives and careers, my brothers, my childhood friends. I consider making a million dollars, as something to do, but wonder if I’ll still feel so empty on the other side.
The discipline, the iron will, it’s a matter of a thousand decisions, of devoting yourself to a task and finding enough small victories to make it through, each test, each trial.
Charity is about taking your excess and giving it to someone, it’s not hard.
But what do I teach my kids? And what is the point, if not for heaven and hell, concepts easily discarded as wishful thinking?
What’s the point of any of it, as the days slip away, one after the other?