Playing Her Pain
She is forever in amber to me, a black haired little girl who would ask me to
throw her up in the air. Standing in her parents’ backyard half a world away, I would
toss her as high as I could, much to her mother’s protests that she was not acting
very ladylike as she giggled and laughed the way only a child who still believes there
might be a Santa Claus out there can. There were protests as her dad informed her
it was time to go inside. She would dutifully hug the eight or nine of us seated in
chairs on the red brick patio. Later as the afternoon wore on, one of us might spy
her lying commando style, just inside the house, trying to hear what we adults, even
though looking back, we were just kids ourselves, were saying.
She is now about the age I was then. Her email brought back memories for
me. Her dad’s name was Andy. He was one of the nicest guys in the world, having
that blue collar, bloke and Sheila tinge that almost everyone in Australia seemed to
have. Even though they did not have much money, young children seem to have that
affect; Andy’s wife had made the backyard into a little Garden of Eden. To this day, I
wish I knew the names of some of the colorful plants she cultivated in the flowerbeds
back there. There might not be a more beautiful tree than Jacaranda when its lilac-
blue clusters blossomed.
Mismatched chairs purchased at yard sales, two cardboard boxes of wine that
disappeared as the day wore on, and a fire that was really only needed during the
winter, when there was not a footy game (Australian rules football) going on, this is
how I spent many of my Saturdays. Claire on my lap, laughing and telling stories
most of which I don’t remember now. We were all young, looked like Greek gods,
and had the whole world in front of us. Everyone should have friends like that.
One Saturday there was the sound of a sliding glass door opening and closing
and light footsteps making their way across the backyard could be heard behind me
on the other side of the stonewall. Andy raised his index finger to his lips to
communicate to the rest of us to be quiet. A door opened and shut. It came from a
small wooden shed, the slanted tin roof of which could be seen looming roughly a
foot over the wall that separated the two properties.
At one time it probably contained pots and gardening equipment, but, as I
listened to hands caress wooden keys, had now become the home of a piano, one
of those pianos that someone else had been glad to get rid of because it had long
outlived any value it had had and was just taking up space.
Andy had told me about the young woman next door. He had met her parents
when he had moved in. They had owned a nearby Chinese restaurant, until the
diabetes had confined her father to a wheelchair and taken most of his vision. He
couldn’t even be left alone anymore. The girl was a talented musician, with plans of
attending the nearby university. Then what happens sometimes happened, the
partner who had become the caregiver out of nowhere died. She was from a culture
where honoring your parents was one of the highest priorities. The dream of college
had been put on hold and packed away with a thousand things she would never do.
Honoring your father and mother is an easy thing to talk about until it is your
life you are giving up. Whatever little free time she had, she would go out to this
worn out piano that she somehow kept in some semblance of tune given its age and
exposure to the elements, sit there, and play. Sometimes it would be something
serious; sometimes there would just be notes with silence that spoke volumes in
between. Andy and his wife doubted that she realized anyone could hear her. She
seemed too private a young woman to ever want to call attention to herself in such a
There was a note, another, and another after that. It began slow and gentle.
Maybe it was the tin roof, the piano, or the acoustics of that little shed that caused
the music to have a haunted quality to it. Maybe it was something else? As a fan of
Leonard Cohen, it took just a few notes for me to recognize it. It was still one of
those songs that the world was still waiting to discover its beauty.
C – A (min) – F – G – E.
I looked up. Everyone in that backyard was crying. No one said a word. Just
silence and slow streams of tears running down every face. I looked at Claire sitting
in my lap and she was crying too. She touched my cheek. It took a moment for me to
realize that she was wiping away a tear that was unknowingly rolling like molasses
down the side of my face.
I don’t have the words to touch on that moment. I don’t know if anybody does.
It was beauty, sadness, and something indescribable. On a picturesque Saturday in
spring in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, a group of friends sat in a back patio and
for six-and-a-half minutes we silently cried. Just like that, this young woman who
none of us could see finished her song, broke the spell, closed the lid over the keys,
got up, and walked back into the house. She had played her pain and it was
I look at the email in front of me. I remember those faces. We weren’t Greek
gods. I am one of the last ones left. A young woman, who as child I used to toss into
the air that she imagined she could almost fly, wanted me to know that her father
had died a few years back in a car accident. A dark road, a drunk driver, and Andy
was gone. Rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.
When you are young, you think you can escape pain, suffering, and
heartache, you are going to make all the right decisions and bend the world to the
force of your will. As hard as we try, we cannot escape the bad things. There is
nothing in life’s rulebook about things being fair. No one has the perfect life. It is so
easy to get angry and bitter, to give into the negative and let it carry you away.
It took me too many years to realize that the secret of life could be found in
that little shed in Australia. Life is an art. We all have to play our pain. It is just a
matter of how beautifully we do it. If we do it right, at those moments when we think
no one else is listening, something indescribably special can happen. Lives can
Laugh. Dance. Be kind. Bad things happen to us all. We are all broken inside.
None of us gets out of this world alive.
C – A (min) – F – G – E.