The disappointments flatten me, make it hard to get up. So I don’t get up right away. I know I don’t have to. I know it’s okay to notice when I’m crushed right down into the carpet, know it’s okay to be confused about how to get up, know that God is here in this place, among the crumbs and the footprints, among the pieces of broken hope. So I stay.
At some point in the flattening, I make my way, like a paper doll, to the piano bench and rummage through it. It always smells like my grandmother’s house, thick with nostalgia and gentleness. It’s her piano, her piano bench, her sheet music stuffed inside. The ordinary treasures minister to me sometimes, give me fuller perspective when I get tangled in today.
I shuffle the papers that belonged to a woman of faith, and I rediscover a picture of Grandmother at the piano, young but the same. A picture of a woman whose song was unfailingly Jesus. A woman who saved a long time to buy this piano, who sat here with children and grandchildren, who encouraged us to bang on it while she sliced peaches and made macaroni and cheese from the blue and yellow box, who loved me a lot and I never doubted it, who stayed kind even when Alzheimer’s raged her mind.
I always wondered how she stayed kind when life was not. But I’m starting to get it: She was a woman whose song was always the same, even when she could no longer remember the words, even when the melody got lost in her mind. That’s the thing about music -- it has a way of staying with you even when you can’t stay with it.
In the pile of treasures, there’s a piece of music with my dad’s name on it, scribbled from his young hand, and I smile: “Hey, Dad!” I wonder if he liked piano lessons; I wonder if I should make my kids take piano lessons; I think about how funny it is that my daughter’s handwriting now looks pretty close to his then -- the unchanging and unmistakable strokes of a kid who hasn’t quite gotten accustomed to holding a pencil.
I flip through an old hymnal and spot a song that carries me off for a bit: “Fairest Lord Jesus.” Grandmother played it many times, I suspect. Maybe not this hymn with these words and this arrangement, but this song:
“FAIR ARE THE MEADOWS, FAIRER STILL THE WOODLANDS
ROBED IN THE BLOOMING GARB OF SPRING
JESUS IS FAIRER, JESUS IS PURER
WHO MAKES THE WOEFUL HEART TO SING"
I remember the way we sang it in high school church choir, with the bridge, “How could I not give you glory? How could I not give you praise? How could I not give you honor due your name? How could I not stand before you with my arms open wide, saying ‘I will worship you’? Oh I will worship you.” I remember how I could barely sing it sometimes. How it’d get caught in my throat.
A song isn’t ever just a song. This one’s a bridge, reminding me that today is not all there is, that once there was Grandmother as a young woman, sitting at this treasured piano and playing about a Treasure that was supremely greater. That once her fingers would no longer play and her mind could no longer collect the words, the song was still there, still the same.
And there’s me as a little girl, banging on the piano, soaking up the music -- not from the mismatched notes, but from the undeniable affection coming from the kitchen. One day I’d know that simple delight was just a glimpse of a Truer Thing. Then there’s me in high school, a girl desperate to sing, who felt music burn within her, who couldn’t deny a stirring toward something better -- the strange sensation that every song pulled towards a Greater Glory.
And now I’m here today, an old hymn before me but a new hollowness elbowing the music out of my soul. I’m silenced by disappointments. I’m tempted to think they don’t matter (so what’s the point of saying them out loud?). I’m tempted to chase after noise. Hollow things aren’t supposed to be heavy, but I am. I can’t remember the words or the melody. Maybe I don’t know the song.
At some point in the uncomfortable stillness, a thought begins to dawn At some point in the shuffling of the papers and the shuffling in my paper doll heart, I learn an old thing in a new way, from the God who has always been willing to stoop down to my level:
All those times I was singing, all those times Grandmother was singing -- it wasn’t our music. We could only sing because he sang first. When we cannot sing, it doesn’t mean the music is lost. It means in the quiet, we can listen for the One who sings over us.
This is the good news for the song-less: He will sing over you. “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
One day, all the disappointments, the horrors, the clanging noises, and the suffocating silences, all the things that get in the way of our singing -- they’ll be gone. The notes will come with no one to stand against them, nothing to silence them. One day the melody will burst forth as it’s always longed to do, and we’ll sing to together (Grandmother, too), “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty,” and we’ll mean it with every fiber, understand it in every cell. One day we’ll sing it back the way we’ve always wanted, our voices finally doing what they were made to do: sing to the one whose sings over us, without any sin, shame, or sadness daring to silence us.
“How could I not give you glory? How could I not give you praise? How could I not give you honor due your name? How could I not stand before you with my arms open wide, saying ‘I will worship you’? Oh I will worship you.”