The Gifts Behind Door #1408
It is a short, rather boring, walk from the elevator to our Chicago apartment. Twenty-three paces. We rarely meet anyone in the hallway. Nor is there anything particularly unusual about the tan walls and dark carpet.
It is this very ordinariness that makes what sometimes happens in the hallway so remarkable. The first time it occurred I was rushing to bring in groceries. I noticed the music — “what fine music,” I thought. It was a piano sonata, probably on the radio or a recording. Nice.
Shortly afterward, I heard the music behind the door again. Chopin, I thought… and just then, the piano music abruptly stopped, then began again a few measures earlier.
This wasn’t a recording at all! There was an actual pianist — and a talented one at that — practicing in #1408. It was my special gift, each time I walked past and listened to the artist at practice. I suspect she didn’t know she was gifting me or any of the others of us who passed by.
Then one afternoon, a violin was added to the piano. On another occasion there was a flute. Then I noticed a few times when the pianist wasn’t as accomplished.
[I am both slow-witted and a bit dull, you see, because it took me weeks to understand that this was the apartment of a music teacher. Of course, of course, there is a college of music nearby our apartment. Students, with differing skills and who play various instruments were coming for lessons.]
On one occasion, there was such a marvelous combination of violin and piano that I confess I stood in the hallway and luxuriated at the fine, hidden away, performance for several minutes. So exceptional were the musical gifts being practiced behind the door they demanded my slowing down and listening. That is when I first met one of my neighbors. A young woman. We exchanged greetings. She smiled, and stood with me for a moment, listening. “Isn’t this wonderful” she said as she moved on to her apartment.
The doorway to #1408 offers me a valuable lesson in a world chock-full of anonymous, mundane interactions. All around — just on the other side of this anonymity, this troubling news and fear-filled analysis — there is often beauty that I otherwise tend to miss. There is teaching and learning that is going on. There are glorious gifts waiting to be heard, to be seen, to be understood or simply appreciated. Sometimes the gift is offered as a solo, sometimes it is more than one who is sharing.
Then it happened, one afternoon, I met her, the pianist, the teacher.
We were leaving our apartments at the same time. She was almost as I had imagined her to be. Petite, handsome, she was moving carefully to close her door, a violin case in her hand. When I told her how I appreciated the music emanating from her apartment, she seemed surprised, a little worried. “I hope my music isn’t bothering you,” she said. “Bothering?” I reacted. “Not at all! Every time I leave the elevator on the 14th floor, I hope you will be playing. It is the best part of returning.”
I still don’t know her name — this teacher, this beauty maker. That will be remedied one day soon, I will make certain to learn more at the right time. For now, even though we are still moving in anonymous worlds, I receive her gift as a reminder that my senses are often too dull to receive other offerings.
What gifts around us do we miss each day? What gifts might we be sharing that we are unaware of at the time? Where are there human and transcendent notes of joy and hope that are muted by the “normal.”
I find that by passing my neighbor’s apartment, even when there is no music, I am reminded to consider such questions — and I am able to approach my day with an anticipation of the gifts all around that I often otherwise miss.
(Our primary residence is in Bloomington, Indiana: we also keep an apartment in Chicago. We love both cities and because we have a couple of grandsons in Chicago, well…)