No Small Miracles, #1

My life has been peppered with miracles, some bigger than others.  Some, were small things that maybe shouldn't have happened because the odds were staggering, but, they happened anyway.  These little moments are easy to ignore, or brush off as coincidence or luck.  And, maybe they were.  Other events, cannot be denied in any such way.  I have had some undeniably miraculous things happen to me.  

Because I am at a low point in my life, lost and going nowhere, I find myself in need of a real miracle, or several, big or small.  So, I want to show some gratitude for the ones already received. Maybe I've used up my fair share already, fair enough.  Some of them were spectacular. 

#1. The Cello:
Growing up, at some point, I fell in love with the cello. It was such a seductive instrument. It made sad, deep resonating notes that seemed to cry the sounds of my soul.  I could feel the tones deep below my skin down to my bones.  Unfortunately, cellos are expensive.  

To fully appreciate the story, one should know my musical background.
I had piano lessons at age 9, learned to read music and had shown some aptitude. But my older brother quit when I got better than he. Then I wanted to quit too.  I didn't want to ask my family for an expensive instrument.  I still yearned to make music, so I joined the Jr. High Marching Band.   I played the saxophone, got pretty good and had fun. But, I didn't want to join the high school band.  Instead, I wanted to join a punk rock band. So I bought an electric bass guitar. I  taught myself to play.  Sadly, I was too shy to find band-mates.  So I played alone, not much fun on a bass.  Same thing happened in college.

So, instead, I picked up the piano again and took lessons in the music department. I got better but never mastered the damn thing. The piano is not my instrument. I can play pieces I've learned but I can't sight read. When the department bought a cello I signed up for lessons.  I took two semesters and really enjoyed it.  It was easy for me and I did well with little practice.  Then,  I got overwhelmed with classes because  my mood disorder made everything almost impossible, including the discipline required to practice.  I always regretted that and planned to buy myself a cello one day. I really wanted to learn.  I've kept that desire throughout my life. (I never finished grad school so I've never had the money.)

I neglected music after I moved to NY. I had no money, no instruments, no time.  I burned myself out with grad school, teaching, the arduousness of poverty, and my ever-blossoming madness.  Four years ago, in 2006, I hit rock bottom.  I was off my medications, at the mercy of my unstable mind which abused me with obsessions and anxiety.  I needed help. Music.  I always felt better emotionally when I had a musical outlet.  If I could get the pain out, physically, with sound and rhythm, then it wouldn't be inside me anymore.  I needed a cello.  I started searching online, ebay and Craigs List.   There were some cheap ones, but it was a fantasy.  I didn't have the money.  

Then I really bottomed out and become non-functional.  So I moved back in with my mother to rest and heal.  I got a new therapist.  I told her about my cello dream. She said I should make my father buy me one.  I didn't bother.  I came back to NYC in January 2007, medicated and functional.  Ready to try again.  But I still needed music.  I still wanted a cello.  However, living paycheck to paycheck on my adjuncting wages didn't allow me the luxury of buying an instrument. 

That summer, the landlord got fined again for using the basement for storage. It's a fire hazard.  Rather than just sending tenants nasty letters telling us to clean our crap,  the  owners actually went through their stuff.  They cleared a ton of old junk from one of the rooms, things that looked like they had been there 50 years.  They put some of it into piles.  One day, while waiting on my laundry, I took a look at the piles.  Then, I saw it.  That looked exactly like a cello case.  There couldn't possibly be a cello in there, could there?  No. But, who keeps an empty instrument case?  I walked across the dark room to get a better look.  It was old and dusty, the latches and hinges were rusty.  I opened it.

Yes.  There was a cello.  Just sitting there. How old was this thing?  The case looked like it was from the 40s.  I picked it up carefully to examine it.  It was beautiful, though it did need some work.  The bridge and endpin were missing. It was made of Tiger-flame maple, had a real ebony fingerboard, and was all in one piece.  I got so excited.  Obviously, no one wanted this. It had clearly been in this basement for decades.  I went right upstairs to ask if I could have it.

The old woman answered the door.  She didn't know who it belonged to.  Her husband came out next and said it was junk.  They were throwing it out.  (These are the same philistines who want to tear down the large beautiful old tree in front of the building because it sheds in the summer.)  They didn't know why I wanted it, but I could take it.  It was mine.  Woo Hoo! 

It took six months before I could afford the repairs. Turns out that it's a German cello, more than 100 years old.  There's no label and no way to tell exactly how old, so the luthier told me.  That means it's worth several thousand dollars because the tone gets better as the wood ages.  It has that delicious old wood resonance so coveted by cello players.  The sound is amazing, so warm, deep and rich.  The notes are layered, not mono-tonal, as though more than one instrument were playing.  I've never heard anything like it.  The men in the music store couldn't believe I'd found it and  got it for free.  They wanted to buy it, but I wasn't selling.

I've named him Gregory. Cellos do look feminine but this bad boy goes between my legs, so it's a 'he'.  I'm learning to play, on my own. I remember the basics from college.  It does make a joyful noise.  Playing is extremely therapeutic.  It's also extremely sensual and an excellent release for that annoying extra energy with which we celibate singles must contend. 

This cello was a gift.  It might as well have fallen out of heaven like manna and dropped into my lap.  No one can tell me this wasn't a miracle.  Nor was this a small miracle.  Valuable, beautiful, abandoned instruments do not just appear in musty old basement trash piles for people who happened to have been trying to buy that exact instrument for years. I've never heard of anything like that happening to anyone else. I will never forget this gift.

Cellos are expensive instruments to maintain.  One of the seams split this winter because I didn't have a case that closed all the way.  The vacillating humidity and temperature from the old radiators in my apartment made the wood expand and shrink too rapidly.  I got a good case for Christmas, but it was too late. Then, because it sat so long without use, the bridge broke off again.  It can be repaired, but, I can't spare the money right now.  Time for another miracle.

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