In the summer of 2003, we moved from Boston to Albuquerque, both a cross-country and a cross-cultural shift. After growing up in the Midwest and then living Texas for several years, I had settled into Boston like a duck who had finally found water. I was rather dubious about this move to New Mexico; I wasn’t at all enamored of the desert; I didn’t much like cacti.

Ultimately, we made the decision to move because life in Boston, for all its charms and attractions, was difficult. We worked long hours at multiple jobs with no benefits. We lived in a tiny, tiny apartment. (It was 350 square feet on a good day.) We loved our life in New England, but the future was insecure and uncertain. It was time to grow up and become adults. Preferably ones with 401ks and health insurance.

And so, in July 2003, we packed our 2000 pounds of books and music, and movers loaded up my beloved Yamaha upright piano and my grandmother’s quilts and set off across the country in a big truck. We flew to St Louis to see my parents, picked up a car, and spent a week visiting friends and family in Missouri and Texas. We were in Fort Worth planning to drive the last leg to New Mexico to meet the moving company when we began to get word that the movers could not give us an exact date when they were arriving. They could give us a window. A three-week window, to be precise. This made my head explode.

In retrospect, I understand that we were being handed the gift of an extended, but undefined, amount of time to do with what we wanted. Matt had some flexibility in reporting to his new job. We had lived in Fort Worth for several years before moving to Boston and had friends we could visit and places we could go. There were restaurants we loved and neighborhoods and museums we used to haunt. We loved the Hill Country around Austin and could have easily made a trip down there for a few days. In other words, this was an opportunity if only we would seize it.

We did not seize it. We went to no favorite restaurants, or museums, or bookstores. We did not drive to the Hill Country. We did not visit our old neighborhood and take nostalgic walks. Instead, I paced. I repeatedly called the moving company and demanded explanations (They had none to give, by the way.). I raged and railed against the injustice of the world. I gnashed my teeth. In short, I handled this with zero grace and no flexibility.

I have always remembered this period in our lives with great regret: I squandered a gift of time the universe handed me. I am trying to remember this in these strange days of uncertainty and trouble. However unwelcome this whole thing might be, however unpredictable the future might be in terms of employment and financial security, however scary the reports and news and gossip are, if I whittle away all the fear, this is a gift of time. We have been busy for so long that to screech to a sudden halt is unsettling. But this is time. However we might choose to use it.

It is not only time, it is a time warp. Days are endlessly long and go by at the speed of light simultaneously. We make one decision and think we are setting the course of the future, only to change our minds and make a 180 degree turn the next hour. Even as I was posting last Sunday’s blog, I was sending out emails suspending the studio until further notice. I was arranging for FaceTime piano lessons and trying to figure out how to deliver sight-reading books to kids who live in the neighborhood. Ten days ago, the wonderful United Methodist Church where Matt is the fulltime music director (the job we moved to New Mexico for) closed their doors indefinitely. Almost immediately, Matt started a project to help local musicians by hiring them to make short videos, and then posting them through his church’s—St John’s UMC—Facebook page with a donation button. I made a video for Matt (Intermezzo by Manuel Ponce); two of my students made videos (here and here); I sent emails about assignments and twice a week piano phone chats; I practiced, not knowing if or when I’d actually ever play these previously scheduled concerts.

All Piano All the Time, I remind the kids of that old studio catchphrase. I try to be cheerful. We have every reason to be worried, for our individual and collective health, for our economic well being, for all of those who have no work and few options. I am not oblivious, but while so much of this is out of our control, this is time given to us to be spent, squandered or seized.

There is so much we can’t do these days for sure. But we can practice. We can weed our gardens and read all those classics that have been sitting our on bookshelves. We can snuggle with our pets and take long solitary walks through our deserted neighborhoods. We can send emails and write long letters to people across the city or across the country. We can connect by phone and FaceTime. I can’t teach in the traditional sense, but I refuse to call what I’m doing “virtual” lessons, since the word virtual implies something that is not real. This is real. I correct rhythms and notes I hear over the phone. I send short video texts to demonstrate a skill or a musical passage. Kids make videos of their pieces and send me the YouTube links so I can listen and give them feedback. The Little Ones and I still play our games. “OK. Yellow lesson book. Page thirty-two. Line five. Measure three. What is the first note of the right hand?”  “D!” they shout at me from their homes around the city. My favorite text of the week came from an 11-year-old boy who wrote, “Hey Amy! It’s 5:45,” a little nudge to remind me that I was late to our 5:45pm piano phone lesson. One kid shouted “Leave!” at a family member who had walked into the room during our PianoFaceTime. “Leave! I’m having a piano lesson.”  No one would claim that this is as good as a normal face-to-face piano lesson. But it is real.

It’s all real, the good, the scary, the hopeful. Especially the hopeful.

Stay well, friends.