Friday, January 2, 2009

Boiling Oil...or...How I Learned to Play Piano


We spent New Year's Eve at a friend's house and got into a conversation about music - whether people are born with talent or just persist until they become experts. That got me to the "boiling oil" story which, I suppose it's fair to say, that I wouldn't have learned to play piano or become the musician that I am had it not been for growing up with "the leg."

Sometime around age 5 I was at the Children's Hospital in Memphis for Operation-Number-God-Only-Knows, a place where I spent every summer for the first 10 years of my life in an effort to fix the bone in my lower leg. Dad and I were watching a movie on television - the peasants were storming the castle and the defenders of the castle were pouring something down on the peasants that was causing a lot of writhing and screaming. "What's that?" I asked. "Boiling oil," said Dad. Wow. The agony - to be coated in boiling oil - horrors! It made an impression that would last a lifetime.

While I was contemplating such a horrible death, Mom was running around the hospital and bumped into some RLDS missionaries. As desperate parents in search of a cure will do, she thought it might help if they came and prayed over me. The missionaries thought it might help too, maybe pick up a couple of converts which ultimately, they did, but that's another story.

Mom returned to the room about the time the movie was wrapping up and said, "There's some nice men outside who want to come minister over you." Say, what? I didn't have a clue what she was talking about so she explained that these two men were going to have a "laying of the hands" over me and that it might fix my leg. Fixing my leg peaked my interest but the hand thing didn't seem right. "What exactly were they going to do?" I asked. "They're going to put oil on your head and put their hands on your head and pray over you," she answered.

I'm not sure how long I screamed. I think my eyeballs left my sockets. I could see the two men outside the room, pacing back and forth, anxious to come in and pour boiling oil on my head. Mom was mortified and left the room to try to explain (how could she know the depth of my fear?). She came in few minutes later and tried to bribe me with a present. Dad, who initially thought the whole scene was amusing, was trying to reason with me but I was beyond reason. They finally left. Mom was furious, Dad amused and I got the bribe as a Christmas present that same year. What was it? A tiny, black, toy grand piano that I played so relentlessly that Dad's great aunt gave us an old upright piano because they thought I had "talent."

I don't believe in talent - I had persistence. Those people who persist at anything; a sport, an art or overcome what others call a "handicap" are the people who rise to the surface, not because they're courageous/brave/heroes, but because they just want to DO whatever it is they've chosen to do. To do, and do it well.

Then there are people who put obstacles in the path of the persistent. These people rise to the surface in a different way...kind of like...well, use your imagination...and don't forget to flush!