When I was in my 20s I learned of the man who tuned the great and grand pianos at Carnegie Hall. At his scheduled time, he would walk out of the world of Manhattan and into the stillness of this majestic theater, feeling secure in knowing that the entire hall would be empty. And he would sit, like a virtuoso, at the keyboard. In that spaciousness, he would take his time, listening to each string as he tapped on every key. It was an intimate conversation – a gentle touch here, a knowing turn there. Quietly, expertly, ever so focused, in his experience there was no passing of time. So “in the moment”, there was no hurrying and no indulging of distraction. He was so present to the task at hand that time, itself, was merely a concept constructed elsewhere, not even hinted at there in the hall of his patient ear and the pianos he tuned so perfectly.
The last thing he would do, though, upon finishing a piano and assessing it as being in perfect tune, was to stand next to it, gently and respectfully close it’s lid, and slam his fist down on its lacquered surface as hard as he could, transforming its technical completion to an artistic statement.
He would hear the strings sigh and ever-so-slightly stand at ease, and a small smile would come on his face, in recognition that too much perfection is, itself, out of balance in the flow of things, and therefore grating to the ears of the listener.
Perfection is like that – a fine goal when recognized as being simply a theoretical guideline which, in actual manifestation, is ofttimes a bit grating to the nerves.
And we are like that, too. We are each like those pianos, having the capacity to be tuned perfectly, but each of us having our own way of pushing our feet against the surface of perfection, like children being obstinate, our obstinance driven by a higher knowing, too deep to understand or recognize.
In childlike blindness, we sometimes indulge the yearning for perfection – driven by some antiquated belief in the salvation of someone’s approval, mythic as that is. Approval seems sweet, and as children we are drawn to it like candy. As adults, we can listen closely to our true nature, and can be like the piano tuner at Carnegie Hall, respectful and responsive to the tension our drives place on the natural beauty that is our unique sound. Oh, what harmonies we sacrifice in striving for perfection and it’s mythic embrace of approval.
Copyright © 2014 Jim Lehrman