Someone once said you're about as happy as you choose to be. I always cringe and scowl when I hear that, partly because it's true, and partly because whoever said it didn't step into my shoes before walking and spewing such silver-lined proverbs.
I'd had a hellish week, to say the least. Due to some flaw in communication and over-zealous commitment on my part, I'd agreed to perform at the coffee shop on Friday, teach lessons and perform a concert with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra in Homer on Saturday, and perform again on Sunday afternoon in Kenai. Out of spite, I chose to wedge in a strenuous mountain hike on Sunday evening in thigh-deep rotten snow that couldn't be trusted more than 75% of the time. Jolting post-hole hiking, lots of thrashing.
After three days of teaching, I drove to Anchorage for Wednesday night symphony rehearsal, then spent all day Thursday trying on hiking shorts at various stores around town in preparation for spring, only to find that my overly developed quadriceps and glutes have deemed me some freak of nature that can't properly fit anything currently on the market for hiking shorts. I drove home to Soldotna Thursday night after symphony rehearsal determined not to eat another scrap of food until I could lose five pounds and fit into the prescribed hiking short mold (which I suspect has been determined by waifish models who don't know a mountain from a mole-hill of diet pills).
My fasting plan proved incongruous with Friday's workload. Friday, I needed to bake for an upcoming ladies' retreat. In eight hours, I made ten batches of focaccia bread dough, two loaves of french bread, 97 rolls, 93 cinnamon rolls, 102 snickerdoodles, 96 key lime bars, and 75 bowls of chocolate mousse. Now I ask you, how's a baker supposed to bake without testing the product? I cursed the ladies' retreat and prayed that all the women would leave ten pounds heavier than when they came.
I had just enough time to wash my hands before hitting the road to Anchorage again for the Friday night dress rehearsal. 150 miles of driving after an eight hour shift, and before a three hour rehearsal--I must be insane. Looking at the cut on my index finger, which I'd accidentally included when slicing limes earlier, I thought about paper cuts and lemon juice and how it really feels, and wondered why all I felt these days was edgy and sour. I wanted to tell the whole world how much everything sucks for Emily, wanting people to care but fully aware that no one really wants invitations to pity parties.
As I drove, I thought about car insurance rates and the price of gas. I thought about saving money and health insurance. I thought about unpredicted late spring snowstorms and global warming. I thought about bears and hand guns, and the tennis playing sales clerk who belittled me in defense of bear spray. I thought about weight loss and unhealthy body image. I thought about politics and religion. I thought about hell and handbaskets. By the time I hit Girdwood, I was fully pissed and on a roll.
That's when we all hit the slush, all of us at the same time while trying to pass that car that was going too slow to make dinner by 6:00. I saw the brake lights and tested my own, wondering what the fuss was about. At that precise moment, I found out.
My left tire got sucked into a rut of snow and slush, and the car pulled to the left. I knew instantly I had to get down somehow from 70 mph to regain control. Fishtailing, I swerved to the left and right, pumping the brakes and trying to correct with the steering wheel. Alas, I was going too fast; the tires had no traction. We were almost in control, my car and I. And then, like a choreographed ballet, we spun a beautiful pirouette in 5 o'clock traffic, between passing lanes and oncoming headlights. I saw the guard rail, a couple of SUV's, and then the ditch.
I'm not sure how I ended up facing the direction I'd come, nor how it came to be that I'd jerked to a halt in a tiny asphalt pullout on the side of the road. But at that point, I remember being convinced that the pullout had been specifically created for this occasion, and I was right on time for my appointment with destiny. What were the odds that I could pull a stunt like this and come out alive, much less without a scratch?
I sat in the pullout and screamed obscenities of gratefulness, and then I cried while I looked at the stupid cut on my finger.
See that? I'm exclusive.
Carl Barnett was the band teacher for Will Rogers High School in Tulsa Oklahoma, back in the 70's. I never met the man, but my Uncle Woody played trumpet for him, and he remembers him well, and will tell you this story:
Mr. Barnett was preparing them for an upcoming concert, and had decided the program should include an arrangement of one of his favorite choral works, Komm, süßer Tod by J S Bach. At one point, the trumpets carried the melody, and Mr. Barnett drilled them each day to get the passage just right. He was a hard man to please, but when they nailed it, his eyes would shine as he nodded and smiled in satisfaction; you could tell that this particular place in the music held a special meaning for him. Worried that he would mess it up during the performance, Woody practiced his part a few extra times in the days preceding the concert.
Then came the night of the performance. One by one the phrases passed:
Come, sweet death, come blessed rest!
Come lead me to peace
For I am weary of the world,
Oh come! I wait for you,
Come soon and lead me...
Finally, the trumpets reached their place to shine. Woody took a deep breath and played:
Close my eyes.
Come, blessed rest!
Mr. Barnett looked at him, smiled and nodded, and passed away right there on the stage.
Out of the blue today, my student confessed, "I was high when I was practicing yesterday, and I knew it, but I wasn't sure what to do."
"High?!" I exclaimed, shocked and sickened by this revelation. Confidentially, I leaned toward her and lowered my voice. "Oh dear, what were you on?"
She paused in confusion for a moment before a light bulb went on. She explained, "No no, I mean I was high--you know, sharp!"
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