Saturday, December 1, 2012

From a Line in 'Catcher in the Rye'

There once was a man who loved to play the piano. He had first learned to play the piano as a young boy, but learning had been difficult for him. He was not a natural, but he had so loved the sound of a piano that he was driven to play and to get better. The more he listened to the music he loved, however, and the harder he tried to make his hands move across the keys in such a way as to duplicate some of the sounds he heard in his head, the more he realized the impossibility of ever truly realizing his dream.

From an early age he had been self-conscious about his playing, even bashful. He despised recitals, and could barely bring himself to play for his mother or any other human being. Eventually, in fact, he could not even bear the scrutiny of his piano teacher, who was a kind, patient, and encouraging man; still, whenever the teacher would demonstrate some particular passage of music himself it would affect his student almost like a blow.

The piano teacher was a very good player, and had once played with a large theater orchestra that had made many recordings.

The man who loved to play the piano despaired that he would never even be able to play half so well as his elderly teacher, and so he convinced his mother to allow him to quit his lessons.

He continued to play, though, and as he grew older his playing became more and more solitary. Slowly and steadily the man who loved to play the piano achieved a sort of modest mastery of the instrument, and though he recognized this improvement it was not enough to overcome his self-consciousness.

In middle age he lived alone in an old and very large apartment building. He was so respectful of the privacy of his neighbors --not to mention protective of his own-- that he kept his piano in the small basement storage closet allotted to him. There were many other storage closets in the basement, as well as a laundry room.

Each evening after work the man would venture quietly down to the basement to play his piano. He would often play for hours. The door to the closet was very old and poorly hung and would not close all the way, so from time to time the man who loved to play the piano would be aware of another resident peering in on him as he played.

To the best of his knowledge, though, no one ever stopped to listen, and each time no one stopped to listen he would pause and briefly consider what he was doing and why he was doing it. And inevitably it would occur to him that what he was doing was playing the piano and he was doing it because he loved it, and then he would go right on playing his piano in the closet.

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