I rarely, if ever, tell people that I played the violin beginning at age five until the end of high school. My husband loves to tell the story of how we had been married several years when my dad said, “Rachel, why don’t you and your sister go get your instruments?” My husband looked at me as if to say, “Is there anything else about you that I don’t know?”
That night marked the one and only time I played my violin in twenty years.
My daughters have asked me to play my violin many times, especially now that they are taking music lessons of their own in piano and ukulele. But there was always a reason to put it off. I always had something going on at the time. I was just too “busy” to play for them.
Now that I have gone Hands Free, I find those reasons sad. I find those reasons pathetic. I find those reasons no longer acceptable.
This year, I wanted to do something significant to mark my first Hands Free holiday. It didn’t take me long to figure out what it would be. I knew that the exquisite handmade violin that sat sadly neglected in its case for twenty years would finally see the light of day. It was my goal to do whatever I had to do to make this remarkable source of beauty and sound come back to life.
But in order to do so, it required practice. It would require that I set aside time to tune the instrument, make sure I still remembered how to read music, and review proper placement of my bow and fingers.
Setting aside time to practice was a good exercise for the Hands Free Mama in training on the days leading up to Christmas. That drill sergeant inner voice of my pre-Hands Free days still interjects words like “productivity” and “visual results” into my brain. It was that same voice that questioned the use of “valuable time” to simply play notes on a violin. But my Hands Free inner voice (which is getting stronger and more authoritative with each passing day) convincingly refuted these questions.
My Hands Free inner voice asked, “What will your daughters remember about the Christmas of 2010? Will it be how shiny the floors were? Or how the packages were wrapped with curly ribbon? Will it be how many homemade desserts lined the counters? Or will it be this: On Christmas morning of 2010, our mama played her violin for us. We had never heard her play. We will always remember how beautiful the music sounded.
Going Hands Free means using every opportunity to grasp was really matters. I knew that this mattered, but I didn’t know how much.
After gifts were opened on Christmas morning, I announced that I had a surprise. I watched whole family become excited with wonder. What could it be?
What happened next makes me so thankful that for three days prior, I had cut my workouts short, let laundry go unfolded, by-passed curled ribbon on the gifts, and allowed the floors to collect dust so that I had time to practice my violin.
When I opened the case of my violin, I may as well have opened the gates to their hearts. As I took out my bow and violin, the look of happiness and fascination on their faces rivaled even the most joyful expressions created by Santa himself.
“Is that your violin? Are you going to play?” The girls were now so excited that they were actually standing in their chairs. Had I known I would be held in the same regard as Itzhak Perlman himself, I may have gotten this wooden beauty out sooner.
I just smiled and let the instrument answer that question. I started with “Silent Night,” which I knew they would recognize and then moved on to “Greensleeves.”
The look of pure awe on the faces of my precious children will never be forgotten in my mind. Nor will I forget that my oldest daughter looked as if she was on the verge of tears by the sight of her mama playing her violin. Yet, it was the playing of that violin that brought a feeling to me that had nothing to do with the emotion of my audience or the beautiful result of my surprise gesture.
As I stroked the handcrafted bow on the strings of my instrument, I was brought back to a familiar and comfortable place of “home.” I was brought back to a distant, yet vivid, memory of how incredible it felt to get so lost in what I was doing that everything else around me faded away. While playing that instrument, I had no choice but to be present in that moment. I was not thinking of what had been or what was to come. It was all about now.
I thought my children would be the ones getting the biggest surprise that morning. However, I was the one who received the greatest gift. I thought I was too old to find joy in this. I thought I was past the point of ever having the desire to do this. I thought it was far too late to ever be that toting little violin player again. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t too late at all. In fact, it had come at the perfect time in my life.
Later I recalled a recent conversation I had with my mom about my new quest to be Hands Free. My mom said something that I can’t quite seem to forget. She said, “You know you haven’t always been this driven, Rachel. As a girl, you got lost in the moment; you took your time; you were carefree. It wasn’t until college that you became so driven and focused on being productive.”
That was precisely when I stopped playing the violin. That is when I stopped “playing,” period.
But now, after a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night” amidst the awe-struck expressions of my daughters and the tears of my parents, I believe there is still hope for me. If I can pick up a violin after twenty years and still make music, then I know I can let go of all that distracts me from what really matters…and still make music.
What is something you did with your time, talents, or interests that fell along the wayside as you became an adult? What might happen if you pick it up today? You might find it is just what you need to get lost in the moment…and find what you have been missing all along.