Stickers And Caves

piano-handsI can’t play piano. My mother tried-insisted, really- on me having lessons as a child. I agreed at the time just because the teacher gave out stickers of envious quality for songs well played. My brother had already received three and there was no way he was going to hold that over my head. But, after a few sessions, she ran out of the platinum bribes, and began acknowledging my talents with generic knock-offs, like escorting the homecoming queen on a riding lawnmower in the parade.

So that was that.

Regardless, I can sit and listen to the instrument for hours. The sound of the finger against the key has to be one of the most beautiful known to man. If thin places exist, then they rest on the fingers of a pianist, and give way with each note and chord, like breaking the surface of water on a still pond.

Cheung Wai, a man from the western Xinjiang province of China, was recently rescued. He’d been trapped in a mine when a powerful earthquake struck the region. Workers digging a new mine discovered him on accident -and to great surprise. The earthquake happened 17 years ago.

What on earth would you do- that first moment, when you hear the click, clank, clank of axe against rock- and the light breaks through?

It’s worth mentioning that I’m graduating. Today, come to think of it. And it’s a strange thing to be stepping forth from the walls of this school into the vastness of the world. Out of the cave, Plato might’ve said. (I hope I’ve remembered to pack my shades.)

And I’m not quite sure what I’ve learned these years, quantitatively speaking. There’s no tally of facts; I lost count of pages read. And a GPA seems both unfair and deceiving (at least that’s how I console myself).

My wife and I attended a graduation banquet last week. As part of the program, a dear friend played piano and sang an original piece. And you could hear it, I swear. The rock breaking, being chipped from the walls; with every note our caving was caving in.

What if man- again, it was Plato who said this- could see Beauty Itself, pure, unalloyed, stripped of mortality and all its pollution, stains, and vanities… would that be a life to disregard?

What a terrifying question. And I’m not even Cheung Wai. I can’t imagine how the light must’ve hurt when it first pierced into his cave. A light shining into his darkness.

“You’re done!” My wife said when I got home from my final final exam. I know what she meant. But all I could think is: I’m only just beginning.

The fingers on the typewriter, the fingers on the keys, these are like miners tapping the wall ever further, deeper- tap, tap, tap, clink, clink, clink– into everything we’ve always had right under our feet but never understood. With them I venture, moment by moment, inch by inch, by the dim light of our headlamps which we call ‘tradition’, ‘upbringing’ and now another one- perhaps a little brighter than the previous- ‘education’.

I want to write something beautiful about that moment. Because I’ve come to learn that this is what life is. And were desperate to take some of it with us; savings accounts, photo albums, story collections and Alzheimer’s research: life is what we’ve made while desperately attempting to ensure the cave doesn’t fall in on us. Because we want to know there’s a way out.

There is the risk that someday we will find the beauty of the world is too heavy and it will cave in on us, burying us all. There is a chance that the God we find might be terrible and cruel, like a drunken bastard of a parent playing favorites and gambling with our child support. We’ll have wished we’d never looked.

But there is also the chance that if I look up, the light will be something beautiful, painful as it may be. There’s the chance that the notes on the piano are not breaking anything; they’re just tapping us on the shoulder and telling us to turn around- this cave is part of a world bigger than we’ve imagined. There’s a chance that the Divine is already here, and the light dancing on the walls of our cave are his puppet show, begging us to turn around.

What’ll become of us when the divine breaks through and the cave we’ve spent our entire existence buried within, what’ll become of us when this is all pierced with light, and by his wounds we become healed, saved, found, arrived?

I can’t begin to imagine. Though- if I had to guess- I’d say it sounds something like the beckon of a friend at the piano, on graduation’s eve.

Someone should give him a sticker.