Jane Campion's movie The Piano opens with a mail-order bride crossing the ocean from Scotland to colonial New Zealand. The bride, played by Holly Hunter, is mute. Among her belongings she has brought along an enormous grand piano, her "voice" to the world. All through the voyage she keeps reaching through the crate to press the keys, as if checking for signs of life.
Her husband's party, delayed by bad weather, fails to make the rendezvous, and as a result, Hunter and her daughter spend their first night on a lonely beach surrounded by trunks, baskets, and the crated piano. She pries loose wooden slats around the keyboard, and in that forlorn setting plays plaintive music as her daughter, garlanded in seaweed, pirouettes on the beach.
For me, too, music has meant a refuge. During the years I attended a Christian college I felt harassed, disordered, confused. In a chapel dark but for a small light by which to read music, I would sit for an hour or so each night at a Steinway grand and play sonatas, preludes, and impromptus. My own fingers pressed a tactile order onto the world. My mind was confused, my body was confused, the world was confused—but here I sensed a hidden world of beauty, light as a cloud and startling as a butterfly wing. I was experiencing common grace, perhaps consciously for the first time, through music.
Years later, I journeyed to a Peruvian river town in the heart of the Amazon jungle. Missionaries faithfully served me American-style food to help my stomach recover from a bout of dysentery. The illness, the heat, and the remote setting made me feel very far from home. I helped the children catch small animals to feed their pet boa constrictor, "Julius Squeezer," and assisted their mostly futile attempt ...1
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