When I was twelve, a teacher asked me if I’d like to learn a musical instrument. The school was starting an orchestra. I said yes.
So began six years of playing the cello. Rides after school on Fridays to lessons with Mr. Sturm, who played cello in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. High school concerts featuring symphonies, such as those written by Antonin Dvorak and Ludwig van Beethoven. Playing in the All-City Orchestra for the opening of Toronto’s New City Hall in 1967. And especially feeling a part of the high school orchestra family – strings, winds, brass and percussion.
My self-esteem, mired in the depths of wild acne, was saved by the music. Alas though, when high school graduation loomed and I thought about joining the University of Toronto Orchestra … I said no. “I’m not good enough.” And so the music died.
When I was about 35, someone who knew my history sat me in front of a cello. My heart wasn’t in it, and after ten minutes I stopped. Other than that moment, there was no cello playing or even reminiscing about the orchestra times for 56 years.
Then four months ago weird thoughts began intruding into my normal life. “I’d like to play again.” (Huh! Where’d that come from?) I found myself looking on YouTube for Yo Yo Ma’s playing of a cello classic – The Swan. I was back and forth between Canada and Belgium in the middle of visa challenges but the inklings towards playing still found their way into my soul.
Four weeks ago, the Belgian Government approved my visa! I had to return to Canada for twelve days as the Consulate in Montreal affixed the visa to my passport. I asked myself what I wanted to do with the time. One answer that bubbled up was seeing a Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert. Lo and behold, the only available one had a soloist – a cellist. I leaned over the balcony and felt into the sweet playing of a young man from the UK. Enthralling.
Back in Ghent, I walked into Arpeggio Music. I talked to …
My friend Sarah is visiting from the UK. I got partway through my cello post when hunger drove us to Uncle Babe’s – a hamburger place. We hadn’t eaten for many hours. My hamburger was huge, adorned with mushrooms, and delicious. I made a mistake which has become all too familiar. My ravenous mouth took big bites. Something felt wedged in my throat. I reached for my glass of water and drew enough in to clear the problem. Except it didn’t. I vomited up the water and the blockage was still there. I couldn’t breathe. I made some gagging sound, verging on stunned silence. Without my brain attached, I threw myself up from the table and lurched towards the bar. An employee was yelling at me in Flemish. My hands were on the bar and I was leaning way forward. No air. And the thought: “I’m dying.”
I didn’t die. After I don’t know how long, I felt some air go through. I was drooling on the bar. Eventually a few words. The Flemish man said something in English. “I’m glad you’re alive.” What came out of my mouth was “It’s a really good burger.”
What terror. What embarrassment. I apologized to everyone, including two women sitting at the bar, for scaring them. Of course I had nothing to apologize for, other than a severe lack of judgment.
An hour later, here I am, shaken by it all. It was so clear that I was dying … and then I didn’t.
The cello can keep until tomorrow.