The Piano Man

While my mom found sanctuary and peace in the little Catholic mission church of my hometown, amid statues, stained-glass, incense, and the quiet darkness surrounding a veiled tabernacle near a tiny flame symbolizing the light of Christ, my dad found energy, life, comfort, and motivation in local pubs.  During the forty years that I knew him, he was in the beer business: distributor, warehouse manager, bar manager, or bar owner.  His friends there had names like Schmitty Schmitt, Rink Rinkenbaugh, Rusty, Dub, Tilly, and a guy we, kids, called the Piano Man.  We didn’t know his name.  He rarely spoke, but let his music do the talking.

These characters and other regulars in his smoke-filled, alcohol-reeking, fun-loving, problem-clouded reality reflect those of Billy Joel’s song: a real estate novelist who never had time for a wife, a waitress practicing politics, Davy who’s still in the Navy, John at the bar who yearns to break out and make it big, and the old man next to him who makes love to his tonic and gin while reminiscing about sad and sweet songs of the past.  The piano man notes that they’re all sharing a glass they call loneliness ‘cuz it’s better than drinking alone.  My dad’s haven was quite a contrast to my mom’s.  She never drank alcohol or smoked and, after the chaos of bringing eleven children into the world, caring for us from infancy to childhood to adulthood, she preferred being alone—and loved being alone in God’s soothing presence.  I don’t think she was ever lonely. 

People are drawn to different sanctuaries of hope at various times along this pilgrim journey: for some it is the solitude of an empty church, for others the social life of public houses amidst singing and laughter, even if below the surface there is sadness and tearful longing.  For some it is the beauty of God’s magnificent cathedral of creation in the majesty of nature’s mountains, lakes, meadows, forests, or ocean shores; for others it is the church of the streets where we can transform our faith into action by helping those in need, sometimes dire and desperate need.  The piano man, like the lord of the dance, entices us to engage when and how the rhythm sinks into us, reminding us that we’re never alone.

In the presence of no one else or with others, it is worthwhile to assess who we are in relationship to God and in relationship to family, friends, and strangers.  It is a good spiritual exercise to recognize what motivates and energizes us as well as what drains or diminishes us.  Such reflection will help us understand how we are called by God to benefit our surroundings.  My mom and dad provided me and my siblings a balance: I am inspired by sights, sounds, smells, touch, taste, and mystical senses of both the party atmosphere and the empty chapel.  I wonder what balance you seek and to what settings you feel drawn at this stage of your journey.  As our church opens herself to the voice of the Holy Spirit through synodality, like the piano man, our Blessed Sanctifier puts us in the mood for a melody of grace to pursue a closer walk with the Lord and make the world around us a little better place for those we encounter.

10 thoughts on “The Piano Man

  1. I continue to enjoy your weekly reflections. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us. Thinking of you and saying prayers for you during this huge transition.


  2. Father Don we are nourished and inspired by your profound insights and absolute holiness. Our prayer is to incorporate those very things into our daily life. With admiration. Carolyn and Bob


  3. Father Don as usual you’re writing spoke to my heart. What you said about the magnificent cathedral of God’s creation spoke directly to me. Being out away from people and only with the natural world is where I feel nourished , supported and closest to God.
    Thank You!


  4. Richmond MO. If my memory is correct Richmond is that little town. Taught a year in Richmond. I thought I was going to be teaching good fArm kids raised and working in a farm. They were anything but. I remember the day the feds or someone came and did a drug raid. They had all the adults lined up from to of hill to the bottom. Many were parents of kids I taught. The 2 principals were not much better. That was my worst experience of teaching Don. Thank goodness that was long after you were gone Anyway I can’t tell you how excited I am for you to be coming to area. I was on staff at STLFseveral years ago and helped close the school. Took a long break fromCatholic church and found St James down the road. Good but we need help as does St Therese. Hoping you can help us out and more importantly hoping st James realizes they need help and can be open to all that is out there. Take care. You are in my thoughts and prayers as I know how hard it must be for you to move on And thanks so much for who you are and for not mencing any words Hang in there

    Joni Dugan


  5. A word of gratitude for your time served at St. Charles. You encouraged and energized the parish,
    both the school and all those without direct connection to the school, to get back on track and
    actually put their religion into action. You guided us through the dark days of Covid. For the
    first time in years, I left mass not only hearing gospel readings but hearing your message in words
    that reflected those religious readings. You actually resusitated my lifeless Catholic faith to create
    a desire to live out my senior years, renewed with vitality, energy, purpose, and a desire to share love
    to the people I daily encounter.
    I know you welcome the challenges ahead and you will have much more success in the important
    work you do bringing to life the word of our Lord. Thanks, Father Don.


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