The Mice and the Piano, Part i
Fr. Joseph K. Horn, O.Praem.
St. Thomas More, Irvine CA
30 December 2001
The story you are about to hear is true. Only the species have been changed to protect the guilty.
Title: The Mice and the Piano, Part I
Time: Right after the Civil War.
Place: High in the Appalachian Mountains, far from civilization.
Setting: A small, poor shack, in which live a man, his son, and, hiding inside the walls, a family of mice.
Story: Once upon a time there was a man who loved his little son so much that he gave him presents all the time. He lived so far from the nearest village that he couldn’t buy his son anything. But he didn’t have to. Whenever he wanted to give his son a present, he’d design it himself, build it from scratch, all by himself, and then give it to his son. That’s how much he loved his son, and his son loved him in return.
One day, after the war was over, the little boy asked his father if he could have a piano. So, right away, the father designed a piano, and then started building it right there in their humble shack.
As he was making the piano, his noisy work was observed by a family of mice that lived in the wall of the house. As they watched, one mouse said to another, “What is the giant building now?” “I don’t know,” replied another, “but it looks like a huge box of some kind.” “Maybe it’s a new mouse house just for us!” cried a baby mouse. “Yes, that’s it!” they all squeaked excitedly, “We won’t have to live in these cold, damp walls any more! What a wonderful giant he is! Let’s move into our new house the moment he finishes building it! I wonder what it’ll be like?”
And so the mice watched the piano grow day by day, thinking that it was being built for them, not knowing that the father was really building it for his son.
One day when the boy was outside playing, his father finished building the piano. The mice watched as the father sat down in front of it, paused a moment, and then reached out and touched it. The mice were astonished at the beautiful music that suddenly filled the shack. “What is that sound?” they whispered to one another. “It’s coming from our new mouse house!” said one. “It’s finished and the giant is playing music to welcome us into our new home!” And with much rejoicing they scurried across the floor and squeezed through the holes into the back of the piano.
Once inside, they were speechless. Their new mouse house was far better than anything their little mouse brains had imagined. Their old place was cold and damp and musty and full of spider webs and dust; their new mouse house was warm and dry, it smelled fresh and new, and it was whistle clean. But all of that paled in comparison to the music! Their new mouse house was filled with music as loud and pure and beautiful as the divine music in the Garden of Eden.
After the father made sure that all the notes were true and the keys travelled correctly and the pedals worked properly, he left the shack to find his son and show him his handiwork. When the music stopped, the oldest and wisest mouse told the others, “Now don’t you ever forget who made this house for us, and who plays that music for us! The giant must love us very much to do such wonderful things for us! We can never repay him, so let’s always remember this day! Let’s never bother the giant any more! Let’s only go hunting for food at night when he’s asleep! If you agree, I’ll remind you of this every day of my life!” And they all enthusiastically agreed.
The father and son sometimes took turns playing the piano, and sometimes they played it together. When the father was playing, he loved the way his little boy listened and watched or sang along. And as the boy learned to play, his father was glad that he had built the piano for him, and even more glad that he had such an intelligent son. And when they were playing the piano together, they laughed and sang together with such love and enthusiasm that the whole mountain rang with the joyful sound.
The whole time, the mice thought that the music was being played for them. And that the piano was their mouse house, built just for them. And they only left the piano at night, so they never saw him any more.
Now, it came to pass that the old mouse died. The next oldest mouse took up his cause of passing down to the next generation the story of the giant who built their mouse house and who played the music for them. As the months flew by, he too died and was replaced by the next generation, and the following generation, and so on. Years went by, and all the original mice died, and none of the new mice had ever actually seen the giant. More years went by, until the mice had only their traditions and legends to tell them about the giant.
One day, as the father and grown-up son were playing the piano together, the oldest mouse was passing their mousy traditions on to the little ones. One young mouse piped up. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any giant out there. Have you ever seen this giant?” “No,” replied the old mouse, “but I know he’s there.” “How do you know that?” challenged the young mouse; “maybe this mouse house just came into being by random chance.” “Ah, but what about the music?” the old mouse replied. “If there’s no giant making the music, where does it come from?” The old mouse was satisfied with this display of logic, but the young mouse was not satisfied. “I’m going to find out once and for all!” he squeaked, and ran off into the inner workings of the piano. A few minutes later he returned, wild with excitement. “I found out where the music comes from!” he shouted, “and it’s NOT from some mythical giant! It comes from METAL STRINGS that VIBRATE! I told you that there wasn’t any giant!”
Another mouse, shocked by this revelation, began to doubt not only everything he’d ever heard before, but even the string theory that he heard just now. “No giant, no problem, but metal strings?” he said, “I can’t believe that! I’ve got to find out for myself.” And off he ran. A few minutes later he returned, even more excited than the first mouse. “The music isn’t caused by a giant, but it’s not caused by metal strings either; it’s caused by HAMMERS which STRIKE the metal strings! That’s what makes the music!” The oldest mouse sadly shook his head, but all the other mice began to argue angrily about whether there really was a giant at all.
The old mouse slipped away from the other mice and silently crept into unexplored regions inside the piano. When he saw the vibrating metal strings his heart skipped a beat, but he kept on going. Then he saw the hammers, and kept on going. Then he saw a tiny hole in the mouse house wall, with sunlight streaming through it. He peeked out the hole, and when his eye got accustomed to the light, he knew immediately that the legend was true, but incomplete. For there in plain view before him were TWO giants, playing the music with their fingers. And they were clearly enjoying it so much that the love between them was almost tangible.
That’s when it dawned on the old mouse: this was no mouse house, and the music wasn’t really intended for them. It was a revelation that humbled him; all his concepts of the piano and the music and the giant had been so silly, so ... so .... selfish.
My dear fellow mice. It’s a humbling revelation. We like to look at the beauty of God’s creation and say, “Thank you, God, for making all this for me!” But that’s silly. That’s selfish. He didn’t make it for us. The music of the spheres is not for us. All of creation, including us, was made by God the Father as a gift for His Son.
Be a worthy gift!