At the beginning of my junior year of high school, I suffered a severe concussion while playing varsity football. Unable to perform basic tasks like reading the newspaper without experiencing debilitating headaches and nausea, I was forced into missing several months of school. I felt like there was a terrible fog between the world and me that made it hard to process my thoughts.
During the months of post-concussion haze, the things that normally filled my life—school, homework, spending time with friends and teachers—were replaced by headaches, prescribed rest, and tedious boredom. In the afternoons, rather than running through wide-receiver drills with the football team, I saw acupuncturists, herbalists, osteopaths, neurologists—even a Ph.D. who pulsed electricity through electrodes hooked up to my head. Nothing much helped.
“The good news is that you’ll be fine,” reported a specialist sometime in December. “The bad news,” he continued, “is that I can’t say when you’ll be back to the way you were before.” Nobody could.
Just a sliver of classical piano music, yet those 40 seconds held much more weight than the entire rest of the film.
One afternoon, after a long slog through NCIS reruns, I watched The Peacemaker, a rather mediocre action movie. At one point the villain, sensing his downfall, sits down to play the piano. Just a sliver of classical piano music, yet those 40 seconds held much more weight than the entire rest of the film.
I looked up the soundtrack that evening and discovered the piece was Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, posthumous. My piano background consisted of taking lessons in elementary school, not practicing very much, and quitting after a few years. I had not regretted my decision to stop playing, yet now, listening to the Nocturne each night before bed, I wished I could evoke such beauty from the piano.
After a few weeks, I found the sheet music online. My sight-reading skills were so rusty that it took me several minutes just to identify every note in a measure. Time, though, was one thing I had in abundance.
The sight of the Nocturne sheet music on the formerly empty stand gave me a reason to sit down at the piano. While my mental fog obfuscated the world around me, each note of the Nocturne made perfect sense, possessing a clarity and precision that otherwise escaped me. When I played it, there was nothing between its exquisite melancholia and me.
While my mental fog obfuscated the world around me, each note of the Nocturne made perfect sense.
Now when I got home from doctor’s appointments, instead of plopping down on the couch, I started going to the piano, trying to play by ear the songs I had heard on the radio during the drive. I found my old piano books and laughed as my mistakes matched the notes my piano teacher had written in the margins so many years before.
As I inched through the first page of the Nocturne, I grew exasperated by my lack of technical skill. But the progress I had made, and the intoxicating prospect of being able to internalize a piece of Chopin’s music, inspired me to do something I never thought I would do: I sought out my old teacher. And, after a long hiatus, I finally resumed my lessons. With my teacher’s help, I finished the Nocturne and performed it at a piano recital this past November, just over a year after my concussion.
I did make a full recovery and I am back to the way I was before the injury, fulfilling the promises made by my doctors. Except now I have my Nocturne, and all that it has given me: a way to persevere through poor health and uncertainty, and the inspiration to return to the piano.