March 3, 2018 — Episode 18--The Piano

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me. Today’s scripture is from Mica, chapter seven verses 14 through 15 and 18 through 20:

Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock that belongs to you,

which lives alone in a forest
in the midst of a garden land;

let them feed in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.

As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
show us marvelous things.

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your possession?

He does not retain his anger for ever,
because he delights in showing clemency.

He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.

You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.

You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and unswerving loyalty to Abraham,

as you have sworn to our ancestors
from the days of old.

“He will again have compassion upon us,” today’s scripture says, but for those of us who grieve, the only really satisfying compassion is to be reunited with our beloved dead.

The place of grief is a place of longing, a longing to unite the past with the future with the presence of those we love but see no longer. In the meantime, it’s only the kindness of others that keeps us breathing.

I heard a story the other day told by a man who has made his living as a long-distance mover for several years. He got to talking about objects. Nearly everybody he’s ever moved is attached to at least some of the objects he’s moving for them. Sometimes it has to do with monetary value, but more likely than not, it has to do with memories.

He once moved a baby grand piano across the country. It was probably worth a lot of money, but it was important beyond money to its owner. She was a young woman, moving to a place where she knew no one. Her husband worked long hours while she cared for their toddler. It was sometimes a lonely life, but she took pleasure in playing the piano, specifically the baby grand piano they were moving. She had learned to play the piano on this very instrument, as had generations of her family before her. She was already taking the toddler in her lap and letting him pound away to his heart’s content. Playing that piano gave voice to generations of love.

The move came on an overcast day, and as the movers tightened the ropes to lift the piano to its new home in a high rise apartment, it started to sprinkle. Maybe the weather had something to do with the fact that just as the piano reached the end of its climb, the ropes…broke. And the piano came crashing to the ground, spilling strings and polished wood and pedals and memories.

The young woman stood there, clutching her toddler’s hand. She seemed to be in shock. She would be the last person to play that piano. Everyone was in shock, including the movers. And then one of them, one of the burliest, one who never had much to say, walked over to her. He put his arm around her. And just watched with her as the raindrops came faster and faster, splattering on the remains of the piano.

And one by one, all the other movers joined them.  Paying their respects to the piano, the woman, and her dreams.

In the future, when she grieved that piano, that move, that marriage, she could remember their compassion too.

Grief is a thin place.