Better all the time

He did set his lower lip when he played the bass. His daughter pointed it out to me. We had been friends for a long time. She was one of the few friends I could trust.

Thing is, most of the time I didn’t see him. He was playing the bass behind in the seat behind me as I played the piano.

He had a band, and he played really well. He played at home, with an amp and a guitar out in the living room. He was the real thing.

Sometimes I would get to go to some of his band’s performances. They played Christian music, of course. But I loved it. I loved being near the performance, done by people I knew. Impossibly cool.

He encouraged me, and told me how to be in a music team–that is what it was called when we played the songs at church. But it was kind of a band. And I was the lead instrument.

That’s what he said.

I wanted that to be true. And it was true, when we all played together. I wanted to be a real musician, but I had no idea what that was. I’d taught myself how to play, and even though he said I was the lead instrument I was sure that I was secretly deficient in all kinds of ways. As if I had huge hole in the back of my pants but could never quite see it.

I practiced, all alone, learning what I could on the Casio keyboard I’d bought from Costco. I was alone and ashamed, but I did all I could.

I asked him, the one who knew, “Is this how it works? That I will get to a certain level as a musician, and then I’ll stay there? That I’ll be set?”

He cocked his head, trying to understand my point of view. Then he shook his head decisively. “No, you keep getting better.”

“You do?”

“Sure. I practice, and I think I’m better than I was last month. I know I’m better than I was a few years ago.”

I looked at him, wanting it to be true. Wanting there to be something I could be good at and get better and better. To have something in my future that I could count on and look forward to.

I trusted him. He was a full-on grown up. And he said I was good. Probably he was saying it to be nice, but when we all played together, it did sound good.

But then things happened and we didn’t play together anymore.  And I became a grown up and I didn’t play much anymore. Life has a way of catching up with all my time.

This year, I decided I had to do something creative. I had to make time. I wanted to write more. I also gave myself permission to buy a new keyboard.

And it was there. In a way that writing was not. I remembered how to play the keys. The way I had learned to play never left me, and I could play something new every single time.

It was right there. Practically where I left it.

And I remembered. I thought about Bill and his bass. I wondered if I could find people to jam with. Maybe I could find a band.

Somewhere between the chord changes, I thought maybe someday I’d get to play with him again. That would be incredible! I’d kept in touch with his daughter. It felt good to imagine that bass behind whatever progression I was working out.

Then I heard the news. Bill’s heart gave out.  It’s done.

I owe him. I owe him big. I wish I could tell him.

He made room in his life for creation, for music and performance. I didn’t know then how hard that could be for grownups.

I want to get better. I know I’ll remember him as I do.