Emily Dyches was my piano teacher when I was 10 years old. I had just moved to the neighborhood and was anxious about a new school and new friends. Emily quickly became my friend. I’d ride my bike to her house with my piano bag over one handlebar on Wednesdays. She was always happy to see me, and I felt comfortable in her home. She taught me way more than just the piano in those lessons. One lesson in particular has stuck with me for a long time.
I had been working for weeks on a particular song and I found myself getting discouraged. I felt that the song was too difficult for me. I was embarrassed to play it for Emily. My cheeks blazed as I stumbled over the keys. Emily didn’t interrupt me. I couldn't finish. I made one mistake after another until I finally took my hands off the keys and put them in my lap. I stared at my shaking fingers.
She could tell I was frustrated. She said, “Maddie, have I ever taught you about lift?” I shook my head. "At the end of a phrase I want you to lift your hands off the keys softly. It will help your fingers tell the story and it will give your hands and your mind a tiny break!” She demonstrated for me with the first line of the song. It looked simple enough. Then she said, “This song isn’t too difficult for you, in fact, it’s only these two notes right here that are giving you trouble. Focus on those notes this time through and I think you’ve got it.” She circled the notes.
I looked at her.
She wanted me to play it again. Right then.
I was skeptical. How could a lift and a few pencil circles on my sheet music make that song beautiful? I gave it a try anyway. What followed was magic. I played the song more beautifully than I’d ever played it before. My confidence soared, and I rode my bike home with a big grin.
I told that story in a speech in college. As I spoke to the class about figurative lifts and pencil circles, I got a missed call from my Mom. After class, a returned phone call let me know Emily had passed away and the tragic circumstances surrounding her death. I think she heard me pay tribute to her in that college classroom.
Fast forward a few years and my husband Jake and I found out we were pregnant! It was the end of January and we were thrilled. A month later the whole world shut down due to Covid-19. I went to ultrasounds and appointments alone. My baby shower was by mail, and a cloud of anxiety and depression seemed to settle on us all as a few days of quarantine turned into weeks and then months. I worried about what labor and delivery would be like without my mom there, and I worried about staying healthy so my husband and baby and I could all be together.
I worried about the normal things too like if I was going to be a good mom, if I would love him enough, if his clothes would be warm enough and how I would feed him. Sometimes the unknowns and worries would snowball and I could feel them sucking the joy out of my healthy pregnancy. But then I’d remember Emily. Though my husband couldn’t be with me, at every appointment I saw on the counter a pamphlet with a beautiful picture of Emily and Baby Trey. I’d remember what she taught me.
I’d practice a lift, giving myself a little break to see and hear the beautiful story I was telling. I remembered that pregnancy, my song at the time, wasn’t too hard for me. There were just a few worries I could circle and take care of.
Baby Hank is here now! He is 5 months old and I tell him every day that I love him and I’m so glad he came. When I’m tempted to be too hard on myself or feeling guilty for imperfections, I remember Emily and the joy she helped me find. I remember that she was my friend when I needed one, and I remember that this song isn’t too hard for me, I’m doing better than I think I am.
We love you Em!
My name is Maddie Townsend Topham and I am a happy wife!