I had a humbling and liberating experience today. When my mom died six years ago, I inherited her upright wooden Steinway piano. I’ve done some research and this piano, which was in wonderful condition when my mom died, was worth between $20,000 and $30,000.
I was at school in Massachusetts when she died, and I didn’t feel like I could deal with it, so I let my sister’s friend take it and store it for me for the past five years. (Nor did I pay her or, until this week, ever even thank her for doing so.)
Well, this woman is moving and I discovered last week that I had 10 days to finally DO something with this piano. I also discovered that it was filthy, had not been kept in a constant temperature environment, was in florida without a dehumidifier on it, face cream was spilled on it (and had dried on it months ago), and had been moved four times without piano movers. In short, this well-meaning woman had kind of destroyed this really expensive piano, and I had let it happen.
I tried to meditate on this piano for days to understand what this piano meant to me. I took piano lessons in high school and despised them. I don’t have any serious plans to take up playing again. And though I can remember the feel of the keys and the smoothness of the piano bench, I have no specific fond memories of this piano. It just sat there in the middle of our house, a decorative ornament. No one besides me ever really played it. I racked my brain, WHY did I keep this thing?
So today came, the day by which the piano needed to be moved from the storage unit, and I realized that I just needed to get rid of it. And FINALLY I realized why I have been holding on to it for so long.
It’s a sad story. And I think it’s a story that many children have lived.
I had a favorite bolt of fabric my mother bought me at a fabric store to make me a skirt with. But then she made it into a skirt for my sister. I had a car I loved–it had belonged to my Grandpa–but when I went to college, my sister and her friend destroyed it, and then my mom sold it without really asking me. She made my sister many hand-made quilts over our childhood, but couldn’t bother to finish one for me. She gave my sister her favorite sewing machine in her will. She gave my sister her car. She and my sister both had many things, many nice things while I was growing up, but I was so austere with myself that I never told anyone I did not eat during the day for all of high school. Now I stuff my face when food is around. Especially if I am supposed to share it with others.
I looked inside myself today and discovered an incredibly needy and grasping child. The only reason I wanted that piano was that I wanted to own my mother’s most valuable possession. But not feeling, deep down, that I deserved it, I allowed it to be destroyed.
When I had the little foster boy, his mother would visit with him and his little brother occasionally. She would ignore him when the younger brother was around. She would hug the younger brother goodbye, but barely touch our little guy. I can only speculate as to the reasons: she was just a teen herself when she had our little guy and I think she just didn’t really bond with him. It certainly wasn’t his fault.
But one day we went to pick him and his brother up after one of these visits with their mother, and I watched as he lured his little brother over to a bridge and pushed him in the brook. It terrified me, but on some gut level, I understood: the novel I’m currently working on starts with the older sister pushing her younger in a river. It’s based on an old Child’s Ballad: “The Two Sisters”, my favorite version of which is “The Bonny Swans” by Loreena McKennit.
This is an old story. All kids deserve love. I think that violent thoughts are pretty natural when a child sees a sibling getting more of it than he or she is. It’s amazing how powerful these things are.
Anyway, I gave the piano to a man who fixes pianos. He thought he was scamming me by telling me it wasn’t worth fixing up. But he wasn’t. Because realizing that, I realized that my mom’s lack of generosity towards me was her own poverty of spirit. I don’t need to carry it forward. And I felt so wonderful to give it up. And I hope that that man does fix the piano. And I hope he gets a lot of money selling it. And I truly hope it makes him happy.
And I will write my stories and hope that the kids who are ungenerous and grasping will one day all be loved unconditionally and their hearts will also open up to encompass others.