One of those sudden Chicago spring thunderstorms caught me by surprise one day as I walked downtown. I ducked into the Chicago Cultural Center.

The Chicago Cultural Center is my favorite building in the city. Its architecture is a majestic combination of Greek and Roman. It houses multiple concert halls, art exhibition halls, and stage theaters, plus a dance studio. I’ve performed in several plays in its theaters. I was glad to take refuge in that familiar building.

As I wandered inside, I heard the chords of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue resonating from the concert hall upstairs.

Rhapsody in Blue was the piece I was working on several years ago when my piano-playing career abruptly ended.

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I had abandoned a successful career in accounting and taken on a series of low-paying jobs, hoping to build a career as a musician and stand-up comic. Soon I performed my first two paid out-of-town gigs.

Then the pain began.

I have heard it said that if you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water he will immediately leap out. But if you place a frog into a pot of room-temperature water, and then slowly bring the water to a boil, he will remain in the pot and get boiled to death.

I now believe this could be true. Because the pain came on gradually, day by day, week by week; and I paid little attention to it, until one night when I sat down at my piano to practice the Rhapsody in Blue and I could not play a single note.

The pain in my arms, wrists, hands, and fingers was so severe that I could not play a single note. I also found that I could not lift a cup, or turn a doorknob. But I hardly cared about these things. What I really cared about was music, and I could no longer play.

Everything that I had worked so hard to build was now ruined. Even my stand-up comedy act was anchored by my piano- and guitar-playing. Just when my work was beginning to find success, its foundation was destroyed.

I spent that night prostrate on my living room carpet, crying and praying.

Over the next few months, I languished in a near-suicidal depression. If I could not play music, I could hardly see the point in living.

I also embarked on a desperate search for healing. I prayed prodigiously. I tried physical therapy, drug therapy, acupuncture, acupressure, reflexology, and reiki massage. I went to different doctors and none of them could find a straight answer. I got tested for carpal tunnel syndrome and the test came back negative.

Finally my doctor told me that I simply had the most severe case of tendonitis she’d ever seen.

Through the multiple therapies, I gradually regained much of the day-to-day functionality in my hands. I could perform daily tasks now. But I could only play the piano for a few minutes before the pain would return. I could no longer sit and play for hours as I had been able to before. And I could not play the guitar at all.

My hands still understood the music, but they could no longer play it.

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As the Rhapsody in Blue reverberated throughout the Chicago Cultural Center, I was drawn to the sound. I knew the piece intimately since I had learned it so painstakingly, note by note, chord by chord, in another life.

I approached the concert hall. The doors were open. The only person inside was a lovely Korean woman in her 20s, playing the masterpiece. She was dwarfed by the Steinway grand that she played.

I entered and sat in one of the hundreds of chairs that were set up. I watched her long fingers float over the keys. I listened. And I remembered.

As I remembered, I began to weep.

I wept for the music that George Gershwin might have made if he had lived past the age of 38. I wept for the beauty of a beautiful woman playing a beautiful composition on a beautiful piano. And I wept for the priceless gift that I had once held in my hands, that I might never hold again.

As I wept, I began to remember other pieces I have played. Soon they came flooding back into my consciousness: Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor. Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. Bartok’s Allegro Barbaro. Haydn’s Organ Concerto in C Major. Even the simple pieces I’d played as a child: Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Schumann’s The Merry Farmer. The Bach Inventions.

As I remembered these pieces, I realized for the first time that these and all the other pieces I’d ever played still lived inside me. They were not lost forever, as I had long assumed.

As long as I could still hear them, treasure them, and be moved by them, these pieces of music would have life inside me.

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I wish I could say that when I left the Chicago Cultural Center that day, the rain had stopped and the sun had emerged. However, that would be a lie.

It was still overcast and raining when I left.

But inside me, the clouds were starting to clear. What had been frozen was starting to melt.

A new season was beginning.

Ranjit Souri (rjsouri@yahoo.com) manages a theater school and teaches writing classes in Chicago.

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