In the grey minutes between picking up my schedule in the gym and the digital bell that began my first day of high school, I wound my way to the musty, forgotten corner of the campus that housed the music room. It was empty, as I’d suspected it would be, since there were only a few of us who auditioned for the string orchestra. With nothing better to do, to distract from nagging worry about the edgy, scary place I’d be spending the next few years, I opened my violin case and went through the comforting, familiar ritual of getting ready to play it.
Halfway through the process another student arrived, to my immense relief a JVC volleyball teammate that I already knew. I remembered now her mentioning that she’d be in the orchestra, that like me she played violin. She too sat down and got ready to play, and other students trickled in. I don’t remember if we played or not, that first day, but I suspect that we did. It was a good class, like that; we always played. Even on September 11, 2001, with the TV on in the background, we played to cope with how our world might be falling apart. That was how we started our days.
I knew she played volleyball and violin that day, that first day. I didn’t know that she was one of the most talented violinists that I’d ever meet, nor that we’d spend the next four years in this orchestra, beginning every day the same way, with her concertmistress’s bow raised, my breath held in the first viola chair, waiting for the downbeat. I didn’t know we’d start a string quartet, travel to Disneyland, or spend hours practicing the first and second violin solos of Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. One of the better friendships of high school had just started, and I had no idea that first day. I just came to play violin.
As an avid reader of books, I find literature a useful metaphor for life. It’s painfully cliche, I know, to refer to “chapters in life,” but still it helps me sort out seasons from one another, slicing them in various ways until patterns emerge. More recently I’ve been considering the “characters” that populate this story, how because of the amount of moving and the kind of work I do, there are necessarily many people who pop in for just a few pages, changing me just a little bit (0r sometimes quite a lot) before saying goodbye. I’ve often thought that if I could “read ahead” five or ten years in my own life, I would be surprised by the setting and probably wouldn’t recognize many people.
Or maybe I would.
Among the many things I didn’t know that first day of school was that in seventeen years and two months, we’d both have baby girls in November, just days apart. We met once last summer, to walk around Greenlake and marvel at how, apart from one salient detail each, neither of us had changed much since we said goodbye in red robes and square hats after commencement. Now we’re meeting again, this time with our daughters, for much-needed coffee and baby-meeting. And though we could spend the time reminiscing, we don’t at all, instead choosing to marvel at how our lives have just changed with the addition of these two miniature people. The conversation faces forward, not backward, that of current friends and not past ones.
As a missionary, a teacher and a sometimes expat, I say goodbye often. Some years are harder than others, and some goodbyes more painful, but shifting community is constant. What a delight to be reminded, this year at home, that I haven’t read the whole book, and never know when a favorite character will return, if just for a while, to celebrate the past, revel in the present, and introduce me to an adorable baby.