It started because I couldn’t get the piano to open.
I wanted to play a simple song on that pearly baby grand, which was preening like a supermodel in the middle of a polished hotel lobby in Mexico. But the cover hiding those 88 keys wouldn’t budge.
That’s when she stopped by, the waitress in the white blouse with her glossy black hair pulled back. She set down her serving tray, a circle balancing several wine glasses.
“Here, señora,” she said, “I help you.”
“It is ok to play this piano, yes?” I asked.
“Oh yes, señora. Yes. No trouble.”
She and I tried to pry open the key cover. It wouldn’t budge. And right about then, I was feeling like the annoying American tourist making subtle demands.
I read her name tag. Lucy. Her name means light. And she was all light, her face rapt, and her smile that spread across her face like a sunrise. And she was determined … and downright illuminating.
“It is no trouble, really, Lucy,” I shook my head, but she popped it open. I gasped, worried that we’d broken something. She threw her head back with a victorious laugh that painted that grand, columnar lobby with contagious paisley joy. I couldn’t help but laugh with her. And suddenly, we were making music there, without having played a single note. My Spanish is halting and yes, it’s true, she does know English, but together, we were most fluent in this language: joy.
Lucy was all light, saturated light, spilling over on me, and onto a cavernous, echoing room.
I sat on the piano bench.
Suddenly, an idea: “Lucy, do you play?”
Oh, no, she says. No. No. No. She said she had never played piano.
I pat the bench beside me. “Oh Lucy, won’t you play a song with me?”
She looked around the room, then back at me, and with a hand to her chest, she seemed to suggest the question: Who, me?
I patted the spot on the bench beside me. “I will teach you.”
And that smile — biggest smile I’d ever seen — just grew two inches wider. Lucy the Candle sat by me, aglow.
I told her she had just four notes to play, and I plunked them on the keyboard for her: C. A. F. G.
She learned those notes, straight away. And I began the melody, with my head keeping a metronomic beat. Side by side, two women fluent in joy, played a song called “Heart and Soul.” And we played it with heart and soul, we did.
It was one of those moments when you are overwhelmed by the beauty of the singular second in which you are living, without a care for what happens next, or who’s watching, and you just know that the only thing that matters is the making of a song. It’s a surprise of the spirit, and you don’t want it to end.
But it did end, and Lucy stood up, with her hands cupped to her mouth, surprised by what she’d done, surprised by the beauty of making beauty. Or maybe embarrassed. I can’t say for sure.
I hugged her, and thought I might just cry, all that emotion wanting to choke out real words. “Gracias,” I whispered in her ear.
Later, I went to tell her goodbye. She hugged me again. “Señora Jenny,” she said, “I was thinking just now, that you gave me the very best moment of my day. I will not forget. Thank you.”
I held her, promising that I wouldn’t forget either. “Me, too, Lucy. It was my favorite, too. You gave me my very best moment.”
A video: Lucy and I playing Heart and Soul in a hotel lobby … (RSS and Email subscribers may click here to see the one-minute video.)
(Piano photo sourced via Flickr, Creative Commons. Post from the 2012 archive.)