I lingered longer than I intended at the Dochgarroch canal locks watching the boats come through and listening to the piper on the deck of the boat, Fingal. I was hungry and ready to get home. I had a ways to go on my bike so it made sense to return on the path that I came in on; I turned and headed back on the familiar side of the canal. About a quarter of a mile down the path I felt the pull on my heart get stronger and more insistent: Go back. Cross over the canal lock and take the path you haven’t taken before. Find out what is on that road for you. I stopped, straddling my bike in indecision, looking back and ahead and then across the canal, wondering if it really mattered. If one moment leads to another and another… then what moment, what choice, is truly insignificant? What does it mean to give one future life and in the same decision put another future to death?
Listening to the piper had me thinking again about something that had been increasingly on my mind since I got back to the Highlands; whether or not to take up piano lessons again. I took lessons from age 4 to about age 12 and didn’t play much at all after that. Playing musical instruments had been a huge creativity generator for me and I missed it. I had played French horn in the school band, a little flute and clarinet and the coronet. But I played the piano for the longest and enjoyed it the most. Now I can scarcely peck out a tune, although I can still read music reasonably well. I had thought about getting back to it, going so far as to buy a used piano and then an inexpensive keyboard but I never gave it the time and dedication that it would take to get to the point where I was good enough to sit and play and not have to think about playing, but just enjoy the experience… maybe write a song or two.
I turned around and cycled back toward the canal locks, crossed over, made my way past the camping tents and car park and realized that I would really enjoy this less traveled path that was soon to turn into a single track for most of the way back to Inverness. My mind was turning over the idea of playing piano—was I serious this time? Would I give myself to it and really practice, make it a part of my life?
I could not believe it and then laughed out loud as I remembered why heeding that quiet, guiding voice is so important. In front of me, just to the side of the canal path was a piano. I stopped and asked the woman who was working on a piano inside the open workshop if they gave piano lessons. She said no but that she would get her father and he could probably help me. I had a great chat with Vernon and his wife, Fiona, and got to see some of the pianos they have for sale and have restored. Fiona asked me to sit down at a piano and play. I told her I could hardly peck. She brought a book over and set it out and I picked out a song and gave it a go… all the while thinking how wonderfully odd it was to find a piano business on the side of the Caledonian Canal. Loch Ness Pianos has been a family business for 185 years–first in England and now in Scotland.
I had a bit of a time finding a reliable piano teacher (I got stood up by the first one without apology—she wasn’t a local, by the way—but I’ve learned to let go of what leaves you). I now have my first lesson this week with my new teacher, a Scottish pianist who is formally trained and has been teaching in the area for 20 years. And lives 5 minutes from my house. Of course.
What’s the difference if I take the path on the other side of the canal or the one I came in on? Does it matter at all? I think it does. Choosing one way or the other creates a different future. Possibilities down one path become reality; the others never feel the breath of life. There are things that almost exist and we must bring them into being. This is the great invitation. To meet the longing, to honor the nudge, to respond to the voice we hear calling us softly or loudly to one way instead of the other. The great journey lies in learning to hear until we are so connected it becomes nearly instinctual, finding the courage to respond, moving in the new direction.
I believe that indeed we are co-creators in how our present and future unfold. In the mystery that is the freedom of being human, we are given choice and in the wisdom of Love that saw fit to consider freedom worthy, it was clear that for a human to be truly free they must be granted the freedom to act in depravity or love, to determine for themselves whether to lift their hearts to hope and faith or to succumb to the wounds of betrayal and cynicism.
And so it is that we live in a world riddled with unspeakable acts of evil and, perhaps even worse, the festering sores of apathy and disregard. We have diseases and cancers resulting from bending the earth to our greed and distorting, polluting and mutating the world created perfectly to sustain us in love.
The life we are granted is granted freely. We can choose to remain as we are or we can become closer to who we were envisioned by Love’s design. I believe that we are intricately woven into the fabric of others’ lives, into the environment in which we live and breathe. What each of us does or does not do ripples within us and beyond us in ways that we more often than not cannot see or understand, but that does not mean that we should live as if we have no impact except upon ourselves. Simple moments: are they really just tossaways?
In the mystery that is God, he has found it worthy to do the seemingly impossible—without stripping us of our freedom or indulging our darkness by removing our own consequences, he makes enormous room for perfect grace, blessings and mercies, large and small. I believe that we are invited into this mystery, one moment at a time, to become more grace and less of the darkness that keeps us and our world from being as intended. Sometimes all we are asked to do is believe that there is a blessing to be had if we just act in that belief, even if it just means going back home on a different road one day.
My friend, Lesley, from Edinburgh, sent me a copy of Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken. He sums up that moment when one way is given life and the other remains forever outside of our reality…
‘Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.’
Click The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost to read the entire poem.