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God

violin

Two Violins and I
The Day I Met God
by Christopher Schaefer


I sat in the sound proof cubicle with the door open, my heart racing.  My father sat across from me, not looking at me, lost in his own nervousness. I could hear the other contestants rehearsing all around me. My violin and the violin I had borrowed from my classical teacher lay in open at my feet.  I had done all the rehearsing I was going to and had had nothing else to do but wait.

My father had said to me earlier that he thought I had a good chance of winning the ‘11 - 15 year old’ category but that I shouldn’t expect to win the ‘overall’ award. The competition was fierce.  I don’t think that I thought of winning at all that day; only of getting through it.

One by one the contestants that were to go on before me ascended the stairs that le to the stage. One by one they came back down those same stairs in different states; some smiling and gleeful, some simply agitated, many of them crying. I felt for the latter; I had experienced bad performances before and knew how crushing it can feel. None of these reactions, however, affected much more than that. I felt eerily numb. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling. It felt as if the focus I had struggled to find for so long had found its way to the center of my being. While I could look at the world around me,  nothing I saw could affect this focus.

When my turn finally came to climb the stairs I closed my violin cases, handed them to the stage hand, grabbed my father’s hand and started the short trip upstairs. When we reached the backstage door, the stagehand informed my father that he could go no further. He looked down at me with a confident smile and told me that he loved me and that I would do fine.  I hugged him and said that I knew I would. He then turned and walked away without hesitation.

As I stepped through the backstage door, I got the familiar coppery taste in my mouth that always seemed to appear just before I performed. Looking back, I believe that it was the taste of adrenaline. I always found the taste comforting; like a friend come to watch over me.As I stood there in the wings, the voice of the girl performing at that moment reached my ears, penetrating. I had heard her rehearsing several times in the past weeks and knew that she was my only real competition in my age group. This thought didn’t enter my mind, though, as I listened to her sing. She was good. Very good. And she was in rare form as she sung to the audience of nine hundred or so people. Her rhythm exact and her intonation, which I knew she had been working on, was perfect. The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck raised as I listened to her sweet song.

And the focus in my mind became an immovable pinpoint of light that felt as if it gave off a palpable heat. I felt total calm.

When the girl ended her song, to a huge response from the audience, the curtain closed and the backstage commotion began. The girl’s sheet music and music stand replaced by a microphone, stand and my two violins. I walked calmly to my place and closed my eyes for a moment. The way I felt was different than with any other performance I had done. The best word to describe it was peaceful. I opened my eyes as someone told me I had ten seconds. I reached down for the violin I would play my first selection on. As I rose it to my shoulder, the D-string of the other violin caught my attention.  It was completely loose. I turned to tell someone I needed time to tune it when the curtains were flung open and I stood before my audience.

One thing at a time is all I thought. I stepped up to the microphone and started playing “Arkansas Traveler.” I forgot about the other violin and just played. Like the girl who had song before me, my rhythm was exact, my intonation perfect. My form was no longer a question; no longer a matter of concern.

And something started to happen. Any words I use to describe it will be inadequate, but I will try. That pinpoint of light and heat had started to grow; started reaching out as if to escape a long endured prison sentence. As I finished the first song, I barely heard the applause. Every hair on my body felt as if it were electrically charged.  I moved to switch violins, my movements automatic.  I stepped back from the microphone and calmly tuned the flaccid D-string, paying more attention to the strange movements I felt swirling inside me. I stepped back to the mike and as I drew the first note of ‘Black Mountain Rag’ I knew that nothing for me would ever be the same.

My fingers flew over the strings absolutely effortlessly. I played that tune faster, harder, more precise than I ever had, while being completely relaxed. And the pinpoint of light was no longer a pinpoint anymore. It was all around me, huge. Its warmth permeated my very being. I was conscious that the music and the light were one and that it was flowing out of me with the urgency of a swollen river, determined to overflow its banks. I watched, a spectator, as it reached out into every corner of the auditorium. I traveled with it to each person in that room. And they felt it, all of them. The glare of the stage lights were a flicker in the presence of this other light and I could see their faces, could feel each of their heartbeats thump in unison to the rhythm of the music, to the rhythm of that powerful light. It was impossible to ignore. It linked all of us in that room,  made us one. I felt bigger than the universe while at the same time totally humbled. The audience was standing, clapping. I could see them looking at each other, looking dumbfounded and pleased. The feelings and light and music grew more frantic as the end of the song neared. The horsehair of my bow began to unravel and dance in the air before me as I pulled it across the strings at a frenzied pace. And as I slammed the bow down on the strings to emphasize the last three notes of the song, the feelings and the light and the music  reached its zenith and consumed me completely.

The audience exploded into applause.  It was deafening to me and I knew what it was. It was a physical way for them to show their appreciatin for what had just happened. I was in total awe of it myself and could do nothing but accept their gratefulness, their untempered love.

When the curtain closed I was surrounded by people I did not know congratulating me, touching me, while the applause contnued. By the time I got back downstairs I was surrounded by my family and teachers. And still, in the supposedly sound-proof rooms, the dull roar of people applauding upstairs could be heard. I felt drugged and truly don’t remember much more about that night until I accepted the trophy for ‘Best  All Around’ and the crowd once again exploded into applause as I raised it high over my head.

I had never felt anything even remotely like it at any point in my life. I have only caught glimpses of it since; a few times for only a few notes while practicing my violin alone, in the eyes of my son when he made eye contact with me the moment he emerged into this world. But nothing of the all consuming wonder I experienced that night.

That experience was responsible for many of the directions my life would take, both physically as well as spiritually. The experience, while probably the single most incredible thing to happen to ever happen to me, did not provide explanation. To experience that light does not, necessarily bring understanding of it. In walking through the door I did that night, the experience would be a source of much darkness and pain for me in the years to come. I eventually stopped playing music in my frustration to find that light again. I felt it unfair to have been allowed the experience so completely, to never to feel it again.

It has now been over thirty years and that night, and the years that followed, were a source of anguish for me for decades after. I am a grandfather now and am much more comfortable with my spiritual process. I realized that it is the struggle itself that is important and I will never stop the search for understanding of what I had been a part of.

And if I never experience what I did that night again, then I must keep reminding myself how very blessed I am for having experienced it at all.