I looked around me. The unusually wide smiles of those whose faces have been permanently marked by a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice clashed against my overwhelming desire to escape. As my community service project in high school, I organized activities for the elderly in my community. The days before it was my turn to lead, I spent countless hours planning a series of workshops for the weekend. Without giving it too much thought, I immediately chose activities within the boundaries of my comfort zone. This weekend’s lineup would involve my favorite hobbies: writing and painting.
When I woke up that Saturday morning, I trusted that everything would go as planned. The stacks of color palettes I bought for painting sat in my bag, along with the boxes of pens for writing stories. I even remembered to bake my special brownie cake covered in gooey chocolate icing. What could possibly go wrong?
Little did I expect that upon my arrival, my confidence would vanish completely. As I set up the materials on the wooden tables, my supervisor approached me and suggested that I should change the activities I had planned. “What?” I thought to myself. With only five minutes left to start the program, what on Earth could I do? “Go, play the piano,” she ordered. Then she left me standing before a keyboard. Her words rang in my ears as I stared at the messy pattern of black and white keys. I had no music sheets to use and no songs ready to perform. I can’t do this, I thought.
But then, standing before a crowd of senior citizens who smiled at me without expecting anything in return, pulled the subtle touch of my fingers onto the piano keys. Before I knew it, I could sense everything around me fade into oblivion as my mind submerged into the growing beat of my heart.
I dove so deep into the dance of my fingertips that the intensity of the notes overpowered my concerns. Finally, just like an echo, the last chord remained unfading amidst the silence. As I lifted my still trembling hands from the piano and looked up to the crowd, my eyes lit up with the sight of the seniors’ faces painted with emotions.
They did not rise from their seats to applaud, nor did they comment on the piece I had played. But they cried. With tears falling down her wrinkled cheeks, one of the seniors approached me and held my hand with her fragile fingers. “Thank you,” she smiled.
It was not until that morning that I learned that we must never let the challenge of spontaneity limit our enthusiasm. I felt so worried about being unprepared, that I didn’t see that small, nameless moments make our time worthwhile.
Many times I’ve played the piano on a stage, illuminated by blinding spotlight and hearing the applause of an indifferent crowd. And many times I have been penetrated by eyes that stare at me, expecting me to achieve success without committing any mistakes along the way. But I never felt so valued as I did in that small room, sitting by an electric keyboard surrounded by the grateful seniors. They saw me as I was, and not how others expected me to be. It was through their eyes that I saw myself.