In my early 30’s I decided to take piano lessons. My piano teacher was a young guy, about my age. He was good. Really good. I once complimented him on his ability to sight read anything and to improvise on the spot. "I wish I could play like that," I remarked.
He then told this story:
“When I’m playing a wedding, or some event, and I’m just there playing whatever songs people want, someone usually comes up to me and says, ‘I’d give anything to be able to play the piano like you. ’Then I say, ‘Would you give 8 hours a day for the rest of your life?’”
Though it stung, I love that story. I love that story because of the way it puts into context something I struggle with all the time. Something so basic. I tell myself that family is most important. I tell myself I want to be a writer. I tell myself I should finish reading one of the half dozen books I have started. I tell myself these things as I mindlessly scroll through pages of Facebook updates, clicking into an "intriguing" article on Huffington Post then to video postings of the Colbert Report that lead me to to someone’s Amazon review of a book, and then to a NY Times blog, and then to videos of sledding mishaps on YouTube. Before I know it I’m trapped inside some Internet pit looking for a rope. In fact, one of you, reading this right now, may be similarly afflicted!
Wondering what Gene Becker would have made of all this, I asked Bonnie:
Hmm. Internal honesty? Be honest with ourselves first? Sorry, Bonnie, I just don’t have time for that.
But to expand on her words and recollections of her father, I’d like to add, in addition to the lack of interest or desire, the power of fear in all this. If I commit the time to something and I fail at it or it breaks, what then? Not having enough time for something is a convenient way to avoid failing. Or at least avoid that fear.
I reported some months back a mini-awakening to how I spent time, or rather, avoiding spending time with my boys. I was there with them, but not really. Within this context I was avoiding them. Avoiding being a dad. Being a dad is hard work. Sipping scotch and surfing the internet? Not as hard. I like to think I am doing better, some days, but it is and I imagine, will be, a constant struggle. How much of that was avoiding being a parent because, well, it’s really hard some days? Or maybe it was because, as a newly made single parent, I was afraid of failing at it? Failing, as a father, is terrifying, yet avoiding it was leading to that failure I was avoiding.
Few things come to us humans instinctively. Unlike other animals we have to be taught and take the time to practice everything. When my boys were younger and one just beginning toilet training, I joked with a fellow parent that it is amazing that humans, as a species, have been so successful. “Because we have to be taught everything. Even the basics that all other animals know instinctively,” I said. “We don’t know how to sleep, eat, shit, or make love until someone teaches us. It’s a good thing we know how to breathe or we’d be dead.”
He replied, “Well, in eastern medicine they believe that many of our chronic ailments are related to how we breathe.”
Well, there it is. We even need to make time to breathe. That might be a good place to start. That, and piano lessons.
For others in the series please see:
Wise Words from Eleanor and Eugene Becker.
Nothing is Ever Simple