My grandparents lived in a large home on a quiet street in a small town in western Wyoming. It was the home my mother grew up in. It had a lovely front entryway which opened into a spacious living room where you would have found the first piano I ever played.
One of my sisters taught me a simple song on that piano (you might know it yourself). It’s played with the knuckles of one hand, only on the black keys. To play it requires no training and even less talent, but I remember how magical it was to produce music from that big, grand piano. I immediately told my mother that I wanted to learn to play.
To be clear, this was not a historic moment in the annals of music. Although I could more or less keep a beat, I wasn’t much of a prodigy. And like any normal, low-talent kid, I didn’t like practicing. I liked the idea of playing the piano, of course; I just didn’t care for the work required to play it well. Although I can still play to this day—and even have come to enjoy it—I never learned to read music well enough that I could ever perform for anyone but myself. Forty years removed from five brief years of lessons, I still play like an eighth-grader who needs to practice more.
Come to think of it, I have just such an eighth-grader right here in my own home. Although we don’t have an entryway and our living room is much more modest than my grandparents’, we do have a grand piano where Seth slumps each day to suffer his way through 15 or 20 minutes of unenthusiastic practice. Occasionally, he might even give off a subtle hint that he would really rather be doing something else. He might pause mid-song, for instance, and say, “I hate the piano” or “I HATE the piano!” or maybe even “I HATE THE PIANO!!” In fact, he goes so far as to set a timer lest he play even one minute beyond his prescribed time. All of which makes him a pretty normal eighth-grader, if you ask me.
Except for this:
On Saturday night my wife and I were sitting in the Carpenter Center during intermission of Musical Theatre West’s production of 42nd Street. (Highly recommended, by the way. Our friend Zach Hess plays one of the leads and he is fabulous.) As we waited for the show to resume (it was around 9:30 p.m.), my phone rang. It was Seth.
“I just realized that I forgot to do my practicing,” he said. “Do I have to?”
Excuse me? What sort of eighth-grader, left home alone on a Saturday night, calls his parents to admit that he has not gotten around to doing the thing he hates the most? A lesser 13-year-old—which is to say, just about any other 13-year-old on the planet—would simply have watched a little more TV and then slipped off to bed, knowing that no one would ever know whether he practiced or not. But not Seth. Throughout his 13+ years of life, he may not have become a concert pianist, but as you can see he has become something much more remarkable than that. Actually, I misstated that. He hasn’t become anything. Rather he has remained that which he has always been: a model of integrity and honor.
As for Saturday night, I was so impressed by his honesty that when he asked Do I have to? I told him it was up to him—at which point he promptly hung up and went back to watching TV. Proving, I suppose, that for all his integrity, he’s still a pretty normal kid.
Makes you kind of proud, to be honest.