It is crackling cold — icicles days old, no melt in sight, snow dry as sand, streets like rinks. All day you try to walk carefully, carefully, precisely and balanced like a big-horned sheep. But this graceful animal you most definitely are not, and so you cross your fingers, pray to stay upright from the house to the car, the car to the office, or store, or school, and then back, home again.
Once arrived, all your day baggage is dumped on the top of the washing machine. The house is warm, your son is down the hall and walking heavily toward you. “Don’t forget we have to go back to school in an hour for the concert.” He continues on down the hall, never questioning why you are still in the laundry room, standing frozen with having forgotten.
Ah, yes. The high school orchestra concert. My son plays bass. Tonight they will play with a professional group called Barrage. I do not know who Barrage is, or why they are willing to play with a high school orchestra. I slump. Truth be told, I don’t want to go. So badly, I don’t want to go.
And so we go: my husband, me, my son and his giant bass packed up and driving the short distance to the high school. We drop my son at the stage door and as he maneuvers the instrument out of the back of the car – any heat that was in the vehicle promptly disappears and is devoured by the frigid air now blowing and howling past us. We find a parking spot – then walk back facing directly into the howl. We get inside, unpeel and unwind, then choose two flip-down, thin, wooden seats.
More seats fill; behind us a 2-year-old boy, one of the very few small children in the audience, moves from his grandmother’s lap to his mother’s and back again. He whines and frets, trying to get comfortable in the tight, confined space. The lights flash once and stragglers hurry, draining the aisles. The 2-year-old does some sort of flip because I catch sight of his shoe near my shoulder. I hear his mother hush him gently. The program is about to start. The face of each person holding a cell phone turns an odd blue; they stare at the screen until it goes dark and off. Books are tucked back into purses, knees adjusted, chins raised, waiting.
Our children will play with the group after intermission. First, Barrage plays sans students. The group is described as “Stomp” meets “Riverdance,” “rocket-fueled, electrifying,” “a tribute to the versatility of the violin.” We are about to watch a percussionist, an electric bassist, an electric guitarist and five violinists.
They take the stage and what happens next is simply a tidal wave of music. It comes at us, rendering every single one of us immobile, eyes wide in some sort of shock. The performers run and jump and slide at us, all the while playing wildly on their instruments. They do not drop them; they do not miss a beat.
I think I can safely say that no one expected this.
They play on and on and then end the first song. Complete silence follows for a moment, then, before the audience can erupt in applause, in that blink second of pause, the very still 2-year-old behind me says, loudly and reverently, his voice round with awe: “AGAIN!”
And so, again they play and play; after the second song, the little boy says, seemingly to the performers on stage, “We LIKE this!” The third song is about an Irish boat accident; the entire tone of the room changes. When the song ends, the 2-year-old says, obviously concerned, “They sad.” He does not ask, he simply states what he knows, what he heard, what he felt. As the songs continue, he continues to sum up before the audience can even clap: “This pretty!”, “Again!”, “We like!”
I want to give you a New Year’s gift. It is this: the ability to react to the world around you, if even just for a moment, the way a little 2-year-old boy did that evening. Simply and without grown-up filters of any kind. Absorb what is around you, take it in, and let it surprise you.