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My neighbor plays the piano. This probably wouldn’t be too much of a problem except that she or he isn’t very good. That and the fact that I sometimes hear the piano sounds (I think it would be a stretch to say “music” since a good part consists of scales and pieces filled with missed notes) late at night and early in the morning.

One time I woke up to go to the bathroom at 1 AM and heard the piano. At times I felt myself growing increasingly incensed, but I didn’t want a complaint about my neighbor’s poor playing skills and ill-advised practice hours to the be the reason for meeting my neighbor, so I decided to just deal with it for now.

One day my attitude about my neighbor’s piano practice changed. As I walked from the elevator to my apartment and fumbled with my keys to open my door, I heard my neighbor’s playing and noticed that it had improved. It wasn’t scales this time, but a recognizable song and with few missed keys.  Having heard the cacophony of the practice made me appreciate even more the beauty of the song.

Deborah Rogers, the sister of my brother-in-law. She's a piano major and this was her high school senior recital. Photo by Rogers family/editing by Emily Zimbrick-Rogers

Often we just show up for the concert or the recital when the music has already been practiced over and over and over again. The off key piano at home has been substituted for the night for a shiny baby grand on stage and the missed played notes are at a minimum. We revel in the beauty and skill of the pianist and maybe even wish we could play like that.  A lot less often though do we accompany our friends in the times of practice to arrive at such moments of beauty.

We celebrate weddings and baby showers with great commitment—“we wouldn’t miss it for the world”—but we are less likely to be there counseling and supporting couples when they are going through challenges or when the expecting mother is dealing with morning sickness or is doubting if she is really up to being a mom after all. We are happy to celebrate with the quinceñera and her family, but how available are we to the angsty, high maintenance teenager once the party has ended?

It is good that we mark big events and milestones in our lives with celebrations of the beauty of a new life, a new relationship, professional achievement, graduations, etc., but we also need to celebrate, appreciate and be present in the moments where the beauty is not so evident.  Before we can enjoy the beauty of a close friendship or romantic relationship we have to pass through the sometimes awkward stage of small talk. I’ve met people who say they don’t like small talk, and therefore they don’t engage in it. I’m not sure that anyone actually likes or finds small talk personally edifying. After all, we are quite capable of figuring out the weather without talking about it with a casual acquaintance for 20 minutes.  However, it is in these mundane, even uncomfortable moments that we are able to begin to build the foundation toward a deeper, more authentic relationship.

And even once we have a good friendship established, we are faced with times that are anything but fun or beautiful. These aren’t the birthday parties and the fun outings we enjoy, but are the moments when a friend comes to me and says that she feels that I put other friends before her and that I’ve changed plans at the last minute on her. Not exactly what I was wanting to hear, and yet, I am glad she’s told me because I hadn’t realized how she felt and was perceiving the situation. From talking through our misunderstandings, expectations and hurts, we are able to develop a more honest, close relationship.

At times our relationship with God is the same. We don’t feel like praying or going to church. We maybe even feel disillusioned about prayers we’ve prayed that seem to go unanswered or perhaps we’re frustrated with other Christians we know. We see little beauty in it all.

But it is often in these “down” moments, though, that we draw closer to God in a way that is deeper than just liking the songs sung at church that week or nodding to a pew friend that the pastor’s sermon was good. It is knowing a God that is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, that is present in the beauty of birthday parties and graduations, that is with us on the first dates and through the breakups, that is there when we feel like the whole world is for us—the beautiful summer days on the beach when the breeze tussles our hair and we don’t have a care in the world—and on the days when we are convinced that nothing more could possibly go wrong, and then it does.

It is through these ups and downs that the beauty of something more real emerges. It is like the beauty of the deep laugh lines of a grandmother that has richly lived her life with family and friends.  It is a beauty that reflects experience, practice and even hardship.

As I think of my neighbor’s piano playing, I am reminded to appreciate and be present for others in the mistake filled practices, the awkward moments, the times of grief, as well as celebrations, that together make this life so beautiful.

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