The strange thing about grief is that there are no straight lines. I mean, they seem to be there, but once you get close enough, all the angles go wrong. What was once straight is now some kind of weird bend or a drop or a sharp upward turn. It’s an optical illusion, or better yet, it’s a stigmatism that needs to be corrected for.
Today is my Dad’s birthday. Seven days ago was the anniversary of his death.
This isn’t an easy thing to write because I know this post won’t measure up to what I’d like it to be. That’s no fishing for compliments, it’s me reconciling the fact I’m not going to get this right because I’m still in the process of figuring it out. Which is why I’ve been listening to Keith Jarrett a bunch lately.
The story of The Koln Concert is damn near unbelievable and something that could’ve only happened before digital communication and social media. A 17 year old kid booked a concert with a world famous improvisational pianist at an opera house in Switzerland and somehow the wrong piano winds up on stage. Jarrett shows up tired from the drive to Zurich and with major back pain that requires a brace to find a piano that was only meant for rehearsals and is not even close to his normal standards. After several hours of tuning, the piano still isn’t right, but he decides to go ahead because recording equipment is already set up.
What makes the concert special isn’t that Jarrett was at his best, it was what he managed to do within the constraints of what he was working with. I’d say he made lemonade out of lemons, but considering the man was in pain and road weary, it was probably closer to making chicken salad out of … well, you know.
Our minds are imperfect. Trying to reconcile the loss of someone like a parent – someone who you lived a lifetime with, imagining that they’d always be there, idolizing… We really aren’t equipped for that. A fuse pops inside our brains and every time we revisit that space, there’s sparks and missed connections. Nothing quite adds up.
In the end, we’re all walking on stage with that barely tuned piano in the spotlight. In spite of all our experience and skill, there’s still a question of how we’ll make it through this. Whether any of it will make sense. How we’re making it up as we go and that as much freedom as that gives, it also takes away lots of options. Feeling all the eyes on us.
I’d like to imagine that Keith Jarrett sat down at the piano that night and said the same prayer that so many musicians have uttered quickly in desperation and jest: “Please don’t let me mess this up.”
We put our hands on the keys, take a deep breath, and start. That’s grief. That’s every year. Every day.