Finding Middle C

Every six months I like to treat myself to something nice.  Sometimes it is a new dress, sometimes an apple peeler and slicer, or this time it was a Casio keyboard.  I grew up with a piano in the house and I truly believe that a house is not a home without a piano.  However, as someone who has lived in six different rentals in the last five years, well… a piano isn’t the most practical possession to own.  So I’ve gone without…. Until this week.

I brought my keyboard home and even managed to carry it into the house by myself, which is something I could not have done with a real piano.  I set it up immediately (which doesn’t mean much since I really just took it out of the box and plugged it in), pulled out the two song books that it came with, and began to play.  Well, “play” may be a slight over exaggeration of terms, but I feel like I should back track first to give you a full picture of the situation.

I took piano lessons once, for three months.  I had been taking flute lessons for a few years and I wanted to become more musically diverse and, since my sisters already played the piano, it seemed to make sense that I should try it as well.  Nine lessons in three months and I left there with a basic knowledge of piano playing; “basic” in the way that one might say they have a “basic” understanding of neurosurgery because they have a brain, which is to say that I actually understand very little. I can read the treble clef with no problem but the bass clef is still a little tricky.  I did the best I could with the little knowledge I had and that has lead to a very limited range of notes that I recognize and very sloppy technique.  That never stopped me from sitting down and attempting to play for hours at a time.  There was just something comforting about pushing a key and having music come out.  Even now, I still believe that some notes are inherently happy and that, even when played in a particularly sad piece of music, they represent hope and the feeling that all is not lost.  I also believe that three simple notes can bring a person to tears, after all, Taps is played using only three notes and it makes me cry every time I hear it.

When I was growing up, I would wander into the living room to play a quick song or experiment with a few notes and, within seconds, I would feel more relieved than I was before I sat down at the piano. I can’t explain it; it was just a different kind of magic.  After setting up my keyboard, I was thrilled to discover that that magic has not been lost.  I let my fingers walk up and down the keys and even attempted to play a song or two before I quickly found myself playing the one and only song that I ever memorized, a version of Mendelssohn’s “Song Without Words”.  I don’t know why this is the only song that ever stuck with me; perhaps it is the way the notes seem to flow together as if they were made for each other.  Perhaps the answer can be found in the title itself, as I often find that I play the “Song Without Words” when I, myself, feel as though I am without words.  Regardless of why, it is imprinted on my memory.

As my fingers began to play the familiar notes they also played some extra ones that didn’t quite belong.  I stopped, began again, and the same thing happened.  I moved my chair closer, I moved my chair further away, I shifted the stand up, and then I shifted the stand down, but still I was making mistakes.  I became rather frustrated so I put my hands on the keys, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath.  That’s when I noticed the problem: Middle C was out of place!  To be fair, I guess Middle C was exactly where it should be in relation to the other notes, but it was not where it should be in relation to me.  It never occurred to me how different a keyboard with 76 keys could be from a piano with 88 keys.  Everything felt all wrong.  I couldn’t find a position that felt natural or made sense.  Why was this such a big deal?  How could 12 keys really make that big of a difference?  I walked away from the keyboard frustrated, which was the exact opposite effect that I was going for.

I’ve found myself going back to the keyboard every day and every day I get just a little more comfortable with this new Middle C.  I still feel a little off kilter and I have even thought of adding an extension of sorts to the end of the keyboard, just to even things out a bit.  But mostly, what I have found is that I just need a little time to get acquainted with this new position.  I need to teach my body, my eyes, and ultimately my sense of self that this is my new Middle C.  I became more and more relaxed at the keyboard and I found myself walking away with that same feeling of relief that I once had.  As I walked away from the keyboard I noticed that there was a thought gently fluttering around inside my head.  Each time that I would try to grasp it, it would flit away and I knew that I simply had to give it time to take root.  And take root it did.

As I was sitting at work one day, on the verge of an emotional breakdown, the thought finally occurred to me.  My work-life was stressful, school was proving to be quite a handful, a friend whom I value greatly and whom I hold quite close was feeling rather distant as of late, I was in the trenches of trying to plan three large events at once, and my family was further out of my reach than I would have liked.  Everything seemed to be happening all at once, I was feeling out of control, and my life was out of balance, and that’s when it hit me: I needed to find my Middle C.  I needed to find the thing that would help to put my life back into balance and back into perspective.

Perhaps you know what your Middle C is.  Perhaps your Middle C has been the same for your entire life, but I feel as though mine has not.  Most times, my Middle C is God.  God is who grounds me and reminds me to put one issue to the left, one issue to the right, and so on and so forth until I am back in balance and I can play my life like the song which He intended it to be. However, sometimes I don’t have to go that high up the ladder.  Sometimes my Middle C is my family and the easy way that we interact with one another with a language that is native to our village of five.  Other times my Middle C is my friends who remind me to laugh, be carefree, and take a break from the real world.  Sometimes, I am my own Middle C.  An afternoon spent with a cup of coffee and a good book is enough to bring me back from my ledge and onto solid ground.  Finding Middle C isn’t about starting over, it is about having a home base to go back to to start from.  Middle C is the beginning of my life, the beginning of my day, the beginning of my song.  Middle C is who I am as a person and what I value as a child of God; it is the center of the universe and is filled with light and beauty and love and everything else surrounds it.  It may take a little time to get reacquainted, but once you find your Middle C you can begin again, you can play the song that you were meant to play, and the music will be beautiful.

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