The first notes of a piano sound from the stereo and I am instantly transported back to school.
I am 13 again, or maybe a bit older.
I am walking quietly in time with the piano, in a line of uniformed girls that stretches forward down the hall and back the other way, as far as the eye can see. A sea of deep forest green and white. We are each a mirror of the next, though we may be taller, shorter, blonder, darker.
It is the same this day as it is every day. We all line up in our home rooms, quietly waiting to be called to assembly, and then we begin the procession, snaking uniformly, unspeaking, toward the great assembly hall.
The sound of piano now, in the present, echoes from that assembly hall of my past. I can hear the notes coming from up ahead, around the bend at the the end of the hall, just out of sight.
I know that as we keep moving, past hundred-year-old stone walls, hundred-year-old windows, past all the framed pictures of past graduating classes, we will eventually pass through the rotunda with its tall columns, round the corner to the right and file into the large hall with its soaring ceilings, its cathedral-like stained glass windows, its stage upon which stands the altar, adorned with gold stars and blue sky and St. Catherine, and her lambs.
In front of the altar will be the Principal, and anyone else who will be speaking that morning.
Sometimes, the school band will get up and play, following the hymn and prayers, the watchful eyes of St. Catherine hidden then by the heavy, velvet curtain that cuts off the religious from the secular.
I was not, am not, religious; I’ve known I am atheist since well before walking into that hall. But I always enjoyed the feeling of oneness, the contemplation at the beginning of the day before classes started. I liked the various hymns, too, especially the poetry of William Blake’s Jerusalem. And the sound of the piano.
As we file in, we will see the oldest girls all sitting around the outer edges of the hall, while the rest of the school seats themselves in two blocks, one on the right, one on the left, forming an aisle of negative space down the middle, exposing the parquet floor.
Just as I am about to round that corner in my mind, the piano ends, all is quiet, and I find myself not at school, not in the assembly hall with the piano playing, but at home, 25 years later.
It is cold and the first snow is scattered softly across the ground.
I ponder the wrinkle in time, the revelation that in doing the same thing day in, day out for all those years, it very quickly became rote and taken for granted.
As much as I may have liked the hymns and the quietly united school, I remember too, that I could hardly wait for those days to end so I could get on with life.
I never thought about the sweetness of the moment while I was in it.
We do that all the time. Take things for granted, miss the beauty, the opportunity to see the goodness in something that is boring, common place, just part of daily life.
That’s normal. It’s just the way people think.
But it’s nice to be transported back and to see things differently, to remember the banalities for their importance, their worth and their charm.
That is the magic of memory and the power of music.