This post is a lot longer than my others, and it’s not funny. But, it is: Life With Esther.
Thirteen was a pretty crazy year for me. My family was living in the north of Haiti, my parents serving as missionaries. I was in 8th grade, attending a small mission school and I was enjoying the school year as we had new classmates, a new teacher, and our small junior high class was determined to have fun. My birthday was the end of September and my classmates surprised me with some birthday presents. I felt grownup, beautiful, and ready to conquer the world. One week after my birthday, there was a coup d’etat and the president of Haiti was overthrown. The whole country was turned upside down, and our lives right along with it. We were stuck in our house for about a week, as the roads were blockaded, and then my parents felt we would be safer if we moved to a nearby missionary compound. We stayed there a month or so, laying low. Then the decision was made that all Americans had to leave the country. We were told that we could take a 40 pound bag each. All our other belongings would stay in Haiti. Whether they would be there when we returned, or when we would return, nobody could say.
We flew on a small plane back to Florida where we stayed a couple days, then we drove a car up to Kentucky, where we had lived before. My mother was able to get a job as a Physician Assistant, I went back to the middle school I had attended when I was in 6th grade, my brother went to the high school, my dad found work. We settled into a fully furnished farmhouse that was in a completely different part of the county than I had lived in before. I came in to the school year in November. I had essentially missed 3 months of school and everyone was concerned about me being able to catch up. In order to help me, they did not put me in the honors classes that I had always attended, they also, for some reason did not put me back with my old classmates, but put me in an entirely different group of 8th graders. And so, though it was my old school, I was surrounded by strangers, doing school work that was not very challenging for me.
I had very bad anemia which made me weary and want to sleep all the time. I also went through a very deep depression. I kept a journal that was full of all my dark thoughts. We stayed in the States through June and then made plans to return to Haiti. Before we went back, my parents attended a missionary conference and my brother and I went to the adjoining Missionary Kids Camp. During that camp a speaker taught on the fact that we can’t rely on our parent’s relationship with God, we have to form our own relationship. I dedicated my life to God during that altar call, and later that evening, while walking through a field, staring at the stars, God spoke to me, told me he loved me, and that was the beginning of my life-long journey to know and follow God.
Back on my 13th birthday my brother had given me 2 cassette tapes that he had recorded for me. He had borrowed a friend’s classical music library and made me a compilation of some of the best piano music ever. My recording had Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2, Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and his Piano Concerto in F. I listened to this music nonstop. It was the constant accompaniment to all the drama of my life. During this year I read Bodie Thoene’s Zion Covenant Book series which followed some Jewish musicians in Europe during World War II. I dreamed of being a musician, playing with an orchestra, playing this music that I was listening to. Somehow being a part of this amazing musical passion, even if only in a small way. It did not seem like an impossible dream. I had been playing piano for a while now and during our time in the states my parents arranged for me to take lessons. Those lessons and my practice time at home were the bright spots of my life. And, as I practiced my pieces, there was always the dream that one day, I would be practicing the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2. One day.
Fast-forward to present day. I’m 39. I had just come out of a rather long depression and was also dealing with a bit of a mid-life crisis as I contemplated where I was and where I was going. After high school I had pursued the dream of Rachmaninoff until, after 2 years of studying piano performance at University, I had realized that I actually, really hated performing. I had then taken time off school and went overseas for a year, came back to the states, got married, got pregnant, and that was that. My next 18 years were spent pregnant, nursing, changing diapers, homeschooling little ones, keeping the house together, doing life with small children at full-speed. As I stopped to look at my life, I wondered about my past dreams that I had laid aside. I wondered about my future, what will I do when the kids don’t need me full-time? I wondered about my significance in a society that no longer honors the role of a stay-at-home mom. I asked myself the age-long question of “Who am I and what am I doing with my life?”
During all this angst, my husband took me to see the Knoxville Symphony. We didn’t know much about the program, we were just excited to go hear some good music. We were late and got to our seats just as the lights were coming down. I squinted in the dim light, trying to see my program and made out the words Rachmaninoff. Oh Good! I love Rachmaninoff. Then I looked at the stage and saw a big Grand Piano in front of the orchestra. Even better! A piano concerto! I was so excited. The conductor came on stage, applause, applause, and then the guest performer came on stage and something in my throat caught. She was a tall, dark haired woman, beautiful figure, beautiful red dress. She looked like my “fantasy” me. The Me that I always wished I looked like. And then she sat down at the piano and yes, she started playing Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2. My concerto. I was in shock. I felt like crying and laughing at the same time. And I thought, “Really Lord? You’re going to rub it in my face? My old dream? You’re going to show me everything I missed out on?” I felt very fat, and dowdy, and unaccomplished as I sat and watched this beautiful woman play my concerto. But, the music was breathtaking and I couldn’t help just luxuriating in the rich sounds of Rachmaninoff.
Then, something unexpected happened. They were at a very tricky rhythmical section and suddenly, the soloist wasn’t in sync with the orchestra, she had made a mistake. The conductor turned his body slightly to her and started exaggerating his movements as he tried to help her get back in place. I sat up straighter, scooted to the edge of my seat. What was she going to do? I watched as she valiantly played through the section and got back on track. My heart was pounding, I sat back in my seat, let out a big breath. Man. I suddenly remembered how much I disliked performing, how stressful it was for me, the fear of making mistakes, the inability to always play perfectly, the tension from having a lot of people watching me. And I thought, “I’m glad I’m not her!” And then I smiled in surprise. Yes. I WAS glad that I wasn’t her.
I looked across at my husband, grabbed his hand in mine. His hand was tough and hard from all the construction work that he did. He went to work early every morning, came home at suppertime every day, tired. He went to work for me and my children. He provided for me so that I could pour all my time and energy into our children. And even though we didn’t have a lot of money, he splurged and bought these tickets so that I could see the symphony. Just because he knew that I loved it and he wanted to make me happy.
I thought about my children at home. My older children were babysitting the younger ones so that Andy and I could have a date. My children were so amazing. They were so talented, funny, kind, entertaining. And each of those amazing children looked at me, and called me “Mom”. I was suddenly overwhelmed with how blessed I was to be their mother.
And I prayed now, a prayer of thanksgiving. “Thank you Lord. Thank you that isn’t me on the stage. Thank you that I am sitting here with my husband. Thank you that I have a whole house full of children, waiting for me to come home. Thank you for this life you have given me.” And maybe some tears came down my cheeks. But they were tears of joy. I am Esther Picazo Heneise. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am me. And I am thankful.
And I sat in the darkness, surrounded by Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, and life was good.