"The Things We Take for Granted"

Not really anything I can add to this. Link to the original post below.

I recently completed a questionnaire in which I was asked: ‘When was the last time you cried?’ The answer to that question was “yesterday.” I’d like to share the details behind that answer, because they shed some light on who we are, where we come from, and what we can lose along the way.

One of the facets of my job is to perform with the “Chamber Players”… a mini-orchestra which contains essentially one of each of the instruments found in the Big band. We primarily exist to do educational outreach in the public schools. Important work, to be sure… but it can wear a bit thin after 20-30 gigs in a 9-month span.

The last Classics Concerts of the season happened about 2 weekends ago, and signalled the unofficial end of the grind for most folks. But oh, no- not the Chamber Players. We had 16 more gigs to crank out over the next ten days, concluding with a couple on Thursday afternoon at Elmhurst Elementary. We were beat. 3 days ago, folks cranked through these gigs with the gray, expressionless faces of coal miners who still had another 15 years until retirement. Thursday, we were all giddy, irreverent and stoked, because there was finally light at the end of the mineshaft.

I finished the 1:00 gig, and was ready for my “outdoor break”… down some powerjuice, get some fresh air, and get back for my very last gig of the year. I was ready to peel out of my seat when a teacher approached me. “$#*ȶ!” I thought to myself. “Can’t a brotha catch a break? I been at this diplomatic crap all year… I just wanna be DONE!”

“Hi. I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your narration at the 4th graders concert last week. You have such a nice speaking voice… bladda, bladda, bladda, reenee reenee reenee…”

“Well, thank you. It’s a privilege…” as I was half-rising out of my seat to ‘Usain Bolt’ my ass outta there. But no. Not today.

“If you have a moment…” [sigh. Pleeeeeeeeeze- be gone, heffah- DAMN!]
“..my student Alex would like to see the cello up close. Would that be possible?”

As an ambassador of music and dutiful employee of a non-profit which needs all the help it can get, one never says no at times like these. It’s an accepted occupational hazard that comes with the biz. PR is important, and you’re never truly off-stage until you’re in your car and driving 2 blocks away. It’s called professionalism.

“Sure. Where is he?”

She motioned to her teacher’s aid, who very gently turned Alex toward me, about 20 feet away. Alex began walking toward me, swinging his white cane in wide arcs before him. When his teacher said “stop,” he halted, handed his cane to her, held out his hand for a shake and said, “Hi. I’m Alex. Thanks for letting me see your cello.”

“I’m Bob. Its a privilege, Alex.” This time, I really meant it.

He raised his hands in front of him, and began wiggling his fingers around as he extended his arms. I said, “Let’s look at it from top to bottom, OK?”

I tipped the cello toward him so he could feel the scroll, that marvel of hand carving that still fascinates me to this day. His little fingers traced the spiral from the center button all the way out till the scroll gave way to the pegbox.

“What are these?” he asked, when his fingers met the tuning pegs. I told him what they were, and how strings were attached to them. I guided his fingers into the pegbox, so he could feel the strings as they wound around the pegs. His hands glided down the back of the neck.

“What’s this?”
“It’s the part we call the neck. It connects the scroll to the body, and it’s where our fingers usually go to make the notes.”

“It feels like silk.” What’s it made of?”
“Wood. I feels silky because my hands have been sliding up and down on it for years.”

“Can you feel where the right notes are?”
“Yes, it is.”

By now, the lump in my throat is starting to interfere with my breathing.

“More, please.”

I guided his hands to opposite sides of the neck, where the neck meets the instrument’s body proper, and watched in wonder as this little guy caressed the shoulders of this big instrument. He followed its outline for the entire length of the body, taking note of every curve, angle and contour. Then he reached around from the back of the instrument, as if to hug it, and found the strings, the bridge, the tailpiece.

“It’s huge!”
“Yep, it is pretty big. But they make’em in smaller sizes for little guys like you, too. There’s one out there that’s just the right size for you. Let me show you the bow.”

I pulled the bow from the music stand, and guided his fingers along the shaft. I let him feel its length, the carving of the tip, and the smoothness of the tortoise shell frog, I allowed him to touch the hair… something I NEVER allow. “Wanna hear it play?”

“Oh, man… sure!”
“Hop up.”

I sat back as far into my seat as I could, and placed Alex on the chair in front of me. He laid his head on the right shoulder of the cello, and embraced the sounding box, placing his hands on the face of the instrument. I reached around him, and awkwardly played “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with this little guy sandwiched between me and the instrument. I simply cannot describe the look of ecstasy that came over his face, as the sound absolutely filled up his immediate world.

He hopped down, extended his hand and said, “Thanks Bob. I’ve never really seen a cello before today.”

I shook his hand and said, “Thank you, Alex. I never really have, either.”

Never did get that fresh air. I spent the rest of the break caressing this wonderful piece of craftsmanship through misty eyes, awash in memories that reach back through 4/5 of a century.

Best way to end a season that I can imagine… rediscovering the wonder that overwhelmed my heart when I was nine years old, and led me to all this.

My… sometimes, the things we take for granted in our lives are the very things which make our lives so special. Tonight, I’m thankful for sounds, my (formerly tired) soul, a hollow box…

…and a sightless little boy who taught me how to see again.




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