Fathom Mag
Article

I play a note.

Finding the Five senses at The Piano

Published on:
October 8, 2020
Read time:
2 min.
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I play a note and my ears buzz. I turn the keyboard down. The buzzing eases but everything is muted. When I play and sing, there’s a tiny tinny voice echoing in my left ear mocking every note—a side-effect of sudden hearing loss. The doctor called the return of my hearing “a miracle.” I try to ignore her, the devil on my left shoulder, and focus on playing and singing. It sort of works.

I play a note and relish how it sounds—clear and loud. Even if it’s an electric imitation of an instrument, it’s good for what it is. It fools my fingers and my foot on the pedal. The keyboard shakes on its wobbly stand when I really get going. I get going and yelp in pain. My hands tumble to a stop when that one finger hits its edge on a black key. “Put that on the list for your doctor!” my husband calls from the next room. The hard little stool that is my piano bench shifts and complains beneath my weight.

I play a note and tears pool in my eyes, but not like you think. I start to play; the notes swim in front of me. I glance out the window to my left and the light stabs. Is this what the writers mean by “rheumy eyes”? I try not to paw at them like a five-year-old with pink eye. The alarm goes off for my eye drops—ten a day to push back against the relentless course of self-destruction my body is set on.

Someone marvels that I can sing through the pain and grief, and my truthful answer is that there is nothing else I can do.

I move the choruses and hymns aside and reach for my trusty old school-child’s sonatina book. I play a note, then some more; I don’t bother with singing because air can’t pass through my nose and bringing attention to that makes the walls (of the room and of my sinuses) close in even more. I couldn’t smell if I wanted to. 

I play a note, and my mouth is full of bitterness. I sniff and snort and try to blow out the taste—one of the medications to keep all of this functioning. The bitterness spreads on my tongue. 

Memory takes me back to a small church stage. On a day when I should have been holding a newborn in my hands, I hold a microphone over an empty belly and argue with the drummer over whether the time is 6/8 or 5/4. My hands are too wrecked with arthritis to play much, but my voice is there. Someone marvels that I can sing through the pain and grief, and my truthful answer is that there is nothing else I can do. At this place and time, signing is my survival tactic, my spiritual warfare. 

I have never been more aware that the Lord gives and takes away. So still, even alone in my room that is filled with illness and memories, what-ifs and certainties, demons and angels, I play a note. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Martha Hepler
Martha Hepler is a third-generation angsty Army wife who has been traveling the globe since childhood. She currently spends her time homeschooling her kids and Instagramming sheep at her for-now home in East Northamptonshire, U.K.

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