march 9 2012

Melissa Hurley

San Francisco, California

 


When I received Jack’s email, I was working from home, beside the back door that was open to an incredibly beautiful spring day. In the next room, a Serbian man named Brani worked on our piano, which my parents had recently sent to our house from Oregon; before that, the piano had been my Grandmother’s for many years. Soon after arriving at our house, the ivory on the piano’s keys cracked and sloughed off because we’d unknowingly placed the instrument under a heating vent. Brani was pulling off the rest of the ivory, key by key, in order to replace it all with plastic.

As I read the email, I chuckled. It’s remarkable how, over the decade that I’ve been contributing to Jack’s project, March 9 has become a significant day of the year, one that I often think about a month or two in advance, wondering what treasure the day will produce that I can write about, and yet somehow I still manage to forget on the day itself until Jack sends a reminder. So as I sat there, I thought, “I wonder what I can write about today?”

It was unique in that it was Friday, and I was at home rather than in a five-story office building where I most often work. It was unique in that it was almost perfect weather, with the intoxicating smell of sun and grass coming in from outside seeming almost unbearable in its potency. I wanted to take a nice, long walk, but I was trapped at home, not having realized that it takes more than three hours to replace ivory key tops with plastic ones! Other than that, it had been a normal day, with my children waking at seven, watching their videos, eating their oatmeal, saying goodbye for the day, leaving for school with my husband.

So I thought about the piano, and what it represents. Playing the piano is basically a type of foreign language that my grandmother learned and ensured that my mother and her brothers learn, and then my mother ensured that I and my sisters learn. A great deal of my parents’ time, effort, and money went into making that happen. What was the result? None of us has made money off our skill, and none of us plays very often anymore. Looking at all this through a businessperson’s spectacles, one might decide it was a fruitless venture. And yet, it was one of the most significant influences of my young life.

As I write this, I am filled with resolve to remember the reason we brought the piano into our home and why we are fixing it; to someday pass along this language to our children. But how easy will it be for two, five, even ten years to go by and for us to realize we’ve forgotten to do this, our children left untaught, the chain of legacy broken. How easy it would be to justify our laziness by wondering if it really makes a difference in the end.

Somehow this also reminds me of Jack’s project, undertaken year after year, with different contributors in different locations, an unbroken chain. How easy it would be for him to let entropy reign and wonder if the substantial effort it requires for him is really worth it.

So I take this opportunity to thank you, Jack; what a gift you give us, year after year!

 




       

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