FIKA, Swedish  (n.) a moment to slow down and appreciate the good things in life.

When I was 11 years old, my grandparents bought me my first piano. It was a huge and imposing upright, in terrible condition, and looked like one of those pianos in an old cartoon that was being hoisted to a third story New York City walkup and dropped from a rope onto the sidewalk flattening the character below. But, I had always wanted a piano, and to me, it may as well have been a Steinway. My dad and I worked on refurbishing it for weeks. New ivory keys and hammers, new upholstery on the seat, and a brand new coat of green paint that we summarily antiqued.” (Google it, millennial).  

I started taking piano lessons on Thursday afternoons from Mrs. Liles, the Baptist Church pianist. Two dollars for a half-hour session. But as much as I loved that piano, I was like every other 11-year-old boy, and my schedule was full of distractions. Softball games, bicycling in the woods, and a myriad of other adolescent priorities ate away at the time for music appreciation. And jeez, the practice? Who knew how much practice it would take to be able to play “Bridge Over Troubled Water”?!  So… my piano started sitting… unappreciated… disregarded.  

Enter my 5ft. tall mother. One day, after thousands of attempts to get me to practice, she took the skateboard from my hand and said, “Let’s have an understanding, boy. I am going to set the timer above the oven, and every day for thirty minutes you are going to sit on that bench so I get my $2 worth from those lessons. You can play that piano, or not, I don’t care… but you will take that time and sit on that bench.”  I accepted the challenge and the mother-son battle was on!  

I was determined to sit her out, and sit I did. For thirty minutes… every day… for about 2 weeks. E-v-e-r-y-d-a-y I waited for the shrill sound of that timer going off (a sound I will never forget, I’m convinced it’s the reason I have tinnitus). I then would grab my ball glove and be out the door. But then the funniest thing happened. After those two weeks, out of sheer boredom, I started playing, and a newfound appreciation for that instrument was born.  More and more I played, until one day ten years later, I walked across a graduation stage with a degree in music and a college diploma. The college dean put it in the same hands that she took the skateboard from.  All because I was put into a situation where I had no choice but to sit and reflect on what I had, what was really important, and what I had taken for granted. 

It occurred to me... that in the time I have spent at home, or in quarantine, or in a mask in the last 12 months, history has repeated itself. I suspect the same is true for you. Who knew when we embarked on 2020 that we would find ourselves grounded, sitting on the bench. Let’s face it, life had given us, ALL of us, a collective time-out. But then the miracle started to happen. Who knew that if we settled into our circumstances, humbled ourselves a bit, and wrapped our heads around the opportunity we had been given… our eyes would once again be opened to what really matters. We had been taking for granted the gifts that were right in front of us, gifts that were/are waiting to be discovered anew. A good firm handshake from a friend you are meeting for drinks. The chance to stop unannounced at your mom’s house for breakfast. The ability to start your day by heading to an open office, to train with your trainer, or get a good old-fashioned haircut. The once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch your kid graduate from kindergarten to first grade. The freedom to go to that neighborhood party on the 4th of July to share an ice-cold bottle of beer, a hearty laugh and a slap on the back by a neighbor.  Let’s face it… what we once took for granted, even to the point of disregard, must now be seen as gifts we are given… every single day. 

If we are to gain any wisdom from having lived through a pandemic, it should be this. Hugs should get tighter, the chance to do an honest day’s work should be seen as a privilege, a fresh haircut should feel like a million bucks, the checker at the grocery store should be seen as essential, a nurse’s uniform is the new red cape, and family and friends become… irreplaceable.  

Take it from me, friends, practice does make perfect. 

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