True to her promise, my mom called me on Sunday morning. Her call came through when my hands were covered in soapy water from the morning's breakfast dishes, and I raced to dry them in time to pick up. I wasn't going to miss hearing my brother Willie play the Chopin Barcarole for the offertory music at church. (As I wrote in last week's column, the word barcarole comes from “barca,” Italian for “boat,” as the style originates from folk songs sung by gondoliers in Venice.) If I couldn't be there in person, I was definitely going to be there by phone.
As he began, I could barely hear the music. Though the notes were soft, they were clear; I could tell that he was playing well. Moreover, I could hear him through the music; I could hear his playful personality, as well as all the difficulties he's had to endure. As I listened, I found myself understanding why he loved the piece—and I was so proud of him for playing and performing in front of a crowd.
Nevertheless, I didn't let myself surrender to the experience. My husband and I had been planning this Sunday's canoe outing all week, but we'd both overslept. We were running behind on our planned leave-time. This being the case, I leaned in close to listen to Willie play … as I tried, simultaneously, to wash my French press coffeemaker. Though I ran the water as quietly as I could, it still drowned out some of the sound. And while I'm not exactly proud of that moment of multi-tasking, I want to share it here. I know that parents and caregivers face many such moments every day, and I admire the way in which they navigate these tricky waters. How do they know, for example, when it's right to let go of one's plan for the day (or the hour, or the moment) and give someone their undivided attention instead?
So, while I wish I hadn't multi-tasked, I do want to own up to it. Owning up helps me to understand more about why I did it. As Willie was playing, I wanted to listen to him wholeheartedly, but I also felt the desire not to disappoint my husband by being late. This, combined with my semi-compulsive need to finish tasks I start, meant that it was hard for me to put down the dishes and listen. Plus, I knew that, if I stopped and let the music inhabit my consciousness, I would be weeping in no time. And, of course, that's the most powerful reason why I didn't make myself stop doing the dishes. Listening with my whole being would have meant vulnerability, and tears … but it would have meant joy, too. For me, there is always joy in hearing Willie play.
Despite my attempt to avoid tears, what happened as the song drew to a close almost did me in anyway. As the final notes faded, there was a tremendous crash of applause from the congregation. Since my mother was sitting in the audience, the clapping was much clearer than the music had been, and it washed over me in wave after wave. It seemed to shout, “Bravo, Willie!” I thought: They know what we've been through. They've prayed for him for years, and in this moment, they get to be proud of him with us.
The notes of the barcarole were playing in my mind as we headed out the door. The day didn't look promising; we drove through a steady rain. But the sun came out as soon as we got onto the creek in our barca. I hadn't told my husband much about Willie's playing, but he seemed to sense that I needed cheering up. As we came to a quiet section of the creek, he took a playful risk and stood up at the back of our canoe. At first, I told him, “That's how capsizes happen!” but then I started laughing; the water was shallow and the mood was light. Standing there, he was as proud and well-balanced as any Venetian gondolier, and I loved him for it.