"Witness" (Essay)

Sometimes we are lucky enough to be present in large moments in one young person's life.

Most of us remember big moments in our early lives. Some childhood event where we did something either unexpected, beyond our perceived abilities, or in some way accomplished some thing for the first time. They are easier to mark in our early years - first day of school, first successful ride on a bike, etc. As a grownup, it is easy to forget how much of a lifelong impact some of those positive milestones will be.

I had the privilege to be witness to three different young people that I care deeply about having such a moment, all in a single day last week. My bandmates and I were on the road for shows in western Virginia with a day off in between. It was Spring Break week for our public schools, which meant that Lisa brought her family, and I brought Madeleine since my wife had to work. So we had a passel of people, a day to kill, and in southwest Virginia - one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

We went up to Grayson Highlands State Park in the morning. A true Appalachian treasure, it is in the highest elevation part of the state (over 5,000 feet). I had a simple easy hike planned out. We got there and found that the only access to the high point was up a short but steeper trail.

Lisa’s eldest daughter Halle was born with Williams Syndrome, which gives her some extraordinary abilities in some respects and challenges in others including vision and depth perception. Despite it being a real struggle for her, and her fear of heights, she conquered her fear and discomfort and made it to the top of that mountain. When she burst into tears of joy at the beauty of the entire world spread out in panorama below her, I really could relate to the emotion. And for us, we had just been part of a very special triumph in her life.

That night we stayed with our friend Russ in Natural Bridge. We all packed into the 1880s two-room schoolhouse that is his home, had dinner, caught up and started playing some music. My daughter has been digging into her fiddle this 3rd-grade year, often reluctantly, but with some consistency too. She had been working on a couple of tunes, and more reluctantly learning one with the rest of us as we warmed up. But lo and behold, she confidently kicked off “Shortening’ Bread” with the classic “one potato, two potato” intro, and proceeded to lead us all along alternating playing the song and singing a verse. She even sang a tune she had never sung before. It was pretty amazing for me to see, but I realize that my friends were giving her the gift of one of those big moments.

Lisa’s younger daughter Rachel is already an outstanding middle school cellist (she played a song with us at our last Franklin Park Arts Center show). One of Russ neighbors is Julia Goudimova, a professional cellist from Russia who is the principal cellist of the University-Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra and a cello instructor at Washington and Lee University. As the evening wore on, she dropped in and after jamming with us for a little while, Rachel pulled out music for a cello duet, Vivaldi's "Allegro in G Minor". After a little run through, the two of them proceeded to leave us in amazement as they played with incredible virtuosity and passion, right there in Russ's living room. I have to think that will be a night that Rachel remembers for a long time to come.

As I lay in bed later that night, my own kid sleeping soundly on a floor mat, I thought about what I had been witness to on this one ordinary day off along the road. Life may be about living moments like that, but I believe that truly living means being aware of them as they happen. For these three kids who had to tolerate the grind of a few days on the road with their parents, through early load-ins, lengthy soundchecks, off-time meals and late nights, I hope that the reward was worthwhile. For me, it was precious and sacred to have played a small part.

Andrew & Beyond Borders family high atop Big Pinnacle in Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia

1 comment

  • Sue
    Beautiful! It sounds like you shared some very special moments. See you all soon!

    Beautiful! It sounds like you shared some very special moments. See you all soon!

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