There are these moments in my life that seem to endlessly flutter around my soul, sparking it on occasion with the tips of its wings. They flit in and out, up and down, and each faint brush pulses through me, and I remember something; something that moved me to surprise and awe when I least expected it some days, weeks, months, or years ago…
70 of us crowded around a young man — 16, 17 years old — in the auditorium. His fingers moved effortlessly across the ivory keys as tears wet his youthful cheeks. Each stroke a somber plea to the heart that ached within — an ache of sorrow and a hidden joy — and to the Heart that ached with him.
I was helping lead a trip in Toronto for a youth group. We were spending one of our days of service at a high rise nursing home subsidized by the government. To the sheer joy of one of our leaders, we were able to barricade the large parking lot outside and fill the white lines with fences and stalls littered with exotic animals from all over the world. Koalas, kangaroos, sloths, etc. — all waiting to be held and loved on by those who rarely leave their rooms and hallways.
Our students would scurry into the nursing home and bring out with them the elderly men and women to pet the animals, take some pictures, and enjoy the crisp Canadian summer air. The smiles — crooked and sparkling — mingled with the sun to drench the darkening eyes and stained teeth with a glow hardly remembered by those wheeled with glee around the pens.
One resident, though, refused to leave her room. She remained chained to the pain which coalesced in her bones. The searing ache crept into her lungs and constricted her voice, and she sat silently — for an hour or two — as one of our students attempted to soothe the ache and free her. He told her about his life, what he did at school, what he loved, etc. — you know, just to pass the time away with a woman who seemed to not have much interest in the time they shared.
Finally, and without any theatrics, she subtly indicated that she was ready to unlatch herself and head downstairs to see the animals. Surprised, the student happily walked around to the back of her wheelchair and gently pushed her down the hall, to the elevator, and into the sun.
After some time outside with the animals, they made their way back into her room. Exhausted from 2+ hours entertaining and loving this elderly woman, the student went to say goodbye. As he leaned in to wish her well, she grabbed his arm, and asked, “Will you play the piano for me?”
Earlier, in passing, he told her he played the piano, and in the midst of the animals, the ride, outside, the hours together, she didn’t forget. The boy agreed — what was 3 or 4 more minutes in the span of the hours they had already spent together?
He sat down at the piano outside her room, and began to string together a few notes. In his head, the patterns were overlaid with specific lyrics. He sings them to himself…
Now I know all the wrong turns the stumbles,
And falls brought me here
And where was I before the day
That I first saw your lovely face,
Now I see it every day
And I know
That I am, I am, I am, the luckiest
As he walked slowly to the elevator, the weight of love, of life, of death, hung down from his shoulders and seemingly pushed his chest into the linoleum flooring. Before he got onto the elevator, a nurse ran up from behind and tapped him on the shoulder. The boy — not out of spite or frustration, but weariness — turned around. Her tears glistened and her eyes gleamed. She proceeds to tell him that the women he was just with hadn’t left her room in over a year, and that she has an incurable disease which was going to take her life in the next week or so.
A few strikes, a hum upon his lips, a minute or two longer with her. A final wish for a dying woman. A last rite performed. A woman blessed. A boy forever changed.
We wept with him as he slumped over the keys mere minutes after he drug himself into the auditorium from the elevator. Her ache became his, and his ache became ours.
And as my soul is sparked to remember this moment, I attempt to carry it with me. I stumble and strike each key, curse my poor piano abilities and the death which stains us all. I praise the One who empowers us to be much more than we ever could have imagined — for Him, ourselves, and others — and exalt the One who defeated the death once and for all.