The Reunion


Late this afternoon, I stopped by The Arbors, an assisted living facility here in town. Pearl’s piano teacher was sitting shiva for her mom, who passed away. Today would have been her 93rd birthday.

Walking into that building for the first time in nearly 15 years brought back a kind of visceral memory: The heavy scent of air freshener; the living room with the leftover holiday decorations; the long corridor lined with numbered apartments. My Grammy, Celia — my mom’s mom, and my Grandpa Max — my dad’s father, both lived out their final years there.

Sitting in the bright, nicely furnished apartment for half hour or so was poignant; Pearl’s teacher’s friends came in one or two at a time, with food and flowers. We looked at some photos and heard a story or two recounting her mom’s exuberant spirit — stories I’ve already passed along to Mani, stories that will now live with me even though I never met the woman.

**

After I said my goodbyes, I made my way back to the lobby. But the piano in the sitting room was whispering to me, so I asked the woman at the reception desk if it would be ok for me to sit and play a song or two. “I don’t see why not,” she replied.

I didn’t even take off my coat before pulling out the bench, lifting the lid, and exposing the 88 keys I’d known my whole life. It felt like a reunion. It was a reunion.

I stuttered through George Winston’s “Thanksgiving,” a piece I learned by ear in high school and used to play with great feeling. The piano was woefully out of tune, but this did not stop me.

Next came the angst-ridden crush song I wrote for Jamie Ferguson when I was 16 (hint: “I just can’t tell if you notice me”). And then I stopped trying to remember anything by heart and did what I used to do for hours on end: I improvised. And found myself in tears.

**

When I looked up, a woman with keys around her neck was standing at the end of the baby grand. “That was beautiful,” she said. Tears were spilling down my cheeks and I could hardly catch my breath.

“This is — this was — my piano,” I managed to tell her. We introduced ourselves; her name was Tiffany.

I played this piano from the time I began begging to take lessons like my big sisters. I played Suzuki and Bartok and later Bach and Beethoven on this piano. I practiced this piano every day from age five until I quit taking lessons, sometime in high school. I was stubborn when it came to working on the hard parts. But I never stopped playing.

This piano was where I went for comfort, for solace, for expression, for fun, for a good cry.

Then I moved out and moved on.

**

Eventually, I got a piano of my own, an upright my then-husband surprised me with for our third anniversary, not a week before Aviva was born. This was the piano both of my kids learned to play on. And though my technical abilities faded with time, my love of improvising never left me.

By 2003, both of my remaining grandparents had passed away. And my parents decided to donate the baby grand to The Arbors, where it would bring joy to many elderly residents for years to come — right up until this day.

One house and three apartments later, the sad day came when the movers broke the news: They couldn’t get the piano around the turn at the top of the stairs. I cried. We moved it to my parents’ living room,  to the same nook where the baby grand used to live. Now, we have an electric keyboard the kids play; I’ve tried to sit there, but it’s just not the same.

**

It’s like that, isn’t it? The locks to memory ride with us like quiet passengers, until something turns and clicks and suddenly we are awash in emotion we didn’t see behind the door we’d forgotten was there.

I have to admit, for a hot minute part of me — something childlike and irrational — wanted to say, “I want it back! It’s mine!”

Instead, I walked away, and asked Tiffany if I might come again to play some more. “I live right up the street,” I told her.

“Anytime,” she said with a kind smile. “Anytime at all.”

Goodnight, Protestors

Feeling like this? The SAFE Project is a place where you can share daily acts of kindness and empathy — in your pajamas. Details below.

“I want us to organize, to tell the personal stories that create empathy, which is the most revolutionary emotion.” – Gloria Steinem

This “goodnight” poem may well be one of the most shared things I’ve ever posted on Facebook, so I wanted to share it here, too. Feel free to add a comment below with anyone I may have left out, and click on “See more” to read the whole thing on my Facebook wall.
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There are so many of us contributing in our own ways to this fight, and as I wrote here yesterday, we need all the voices now.

To that end, join me starting tomorrow for the Show and Fuel Empathy (SAFE) Project, a closed group for folks who care about community, humanity, and justice to share small but tangible acts of kindness as a form of protest.

Come be seen, heard, and supported and keep your sanity intact all at the same time.

Sign up here by paying whatever you can and want to. 

14/30 Poems in November: Refuge

woods
The woods haven’t always
welcomed me but today
they did.

Strangers haven’t always
greeted me kindly but today
they smiled hello.

Once, I would have been afraid
of this hiding place.
Today, I sought it out.

Once, I’d have been terrified
of dogs running
in my direction.

Today, I opened my hands
to their tongues,
stroked their heads.

In another lifetime,
I fled to the woods
for survival.

I failed
to save my child,
my sister. Never again.

Today, once again,
the woods were refuge,
now of a different sort.

A place to touch
into peace. A refusal.
A pause. A quiet roar.

14/30

**

Donate to my efforts to support the Center For New Americans in Northampton, MA: I’m halfway to my $500 fundraising goal and every bit helps.

Watching Animal Videos at Four in the Morning

1. THE PITBULL
Tip-toeing from the den
so as not to wake the cat,
she reminded me of myself
after nursing the baby back down,
as she stood stock-still on three legs,
the fourth hovering like a prayer
that the creak in the floorboard
hadn’t startled her friend from sleep. .

Four in the morning,
three words came to mind:
“if only,” and “imagine.” Utopian.
A world where for one day, a single day,
we treated each other with kindness.

2. THE PARROT + THE MAN
The man wore a neon construction vest;
the parrot had downy white and yellow feathers
and watched intently as the man flattened
the gilded cage with heavy work boots,
one clomp after another. Even in silence,
I could hear the bird egging him on,
cursing (as the caption told me) the cage
that had kept his freedom elsewhere.

Four in the morning,
three words came to mind:
“if only,” and “imagine.” Utopian.
A world where for a day, a single day,
we wanted each other’s liberation.

3. THE ELEPHANT
Isn’t it always the elephant videos?
The overlay of words — all caps, bold:
ELEPHANT CAUGHT PICKING UP TRASH.
Sure enough, you kind of got the feeling
she was looking to see if anyone
was around, then vacuum sealed
a ball of paper to the tip of her trunk
and tossed it into the plastic barrel nearby.

Four in the morning,
three words came to mind:
“if only,” and “imagine.” Utopian.
A world where for a day, a single day,
we took care of our own home planet.

4. TINY SCREENS 
Dimmed and muted in the dark,
a racing mind and frightened heart.
So in awe of the world’s wonders,
the beauty and the best of it,
and wondering what else we can do
to bring more kindness, more justice,
and more selflessness to the waking.