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The Wind in the Willows MAG
Said the violinist of the 19th century, "Now, I havetraveled far, gone many places. I have contended with countless others to wintitles. But music has not always been my passion. When I was young, it was artthat interested me.
"There was nothing that gave me more joy than tosit and sketch out a picture with a pencil. If I could produce a good piece ofart, it was worth whatever amount of time I spent, whatever amount of effort Iput in. If, while I was bored in class, the teacher scolded me for drawingpictures in the margins of my paper, I did not care if that particular picturewas done correctly.
"There was no other class I paid more attentionto than art. If there was a paint brush in my hands, or a pencil, boredom lostits meaning, and I was content. I scribbled on whatever paper I could find, drewhills and mountains for the fun of it.
"I never thought I would beanything else when I grew up but an artist. I had a wonderful art teacher, whotaught me to use watercolors and paints, and I gladly spent time practicing. Evenhe admitted that I had true talent. While most children spent their time playing,I drew. I never thought anything would satisfy my longing for art. I was eager toput everything onto paper.
"But then, when I was seven, somethinghappened that changed my life. It was winter, and while my sisters and I wereskating on a pond, the ice beneath me cracked. I fell in. I was barely consciouswhen I was rescued. All I could feel was cold.
"For days afterward Ihad a high fever. A doctor came, but he failed to help. I was cold even as layersof blankets were piled on me, yet my forehead was burning. Several days later,when I awoke, everything was dark. I had lost my sight.
"As Iopened my eyes, I could see nothing. It must be night, I thought. But whycouldn't I see even the dim outlines of things? Even at night, I had always beenable to discern where my drawers and table were. I turned my head instinctivelytoward the window, straining to see even the faintest bit of moonlight orstarlight.
"I saw nothing. I pushed myself out of bed toward thewindow. Sunlight. I could feel the sunlight on my face. Outside, the birds werechirping. It was night, I tried to convince myself. But surely, birds wouldn'tchirp like this? I ran, bumping into tables and chairs. I ran my hand along thewindow sill. Why did no light pour from it? I ran toward the door, attempting tomake my way outside. I ran into walls, banging my arms against chairs and my legsinto cabinets. I searched for the door, and after some time I found it, hoping tohear the silence that would confirm that it was indeed night.
"Butno. The sound of people - my brothers and sisters conversing - filled my ears.The sunlight shone stronger on my face. I could hear the drumming of hooves.There was the sound of wagons, the squeak of wheels. It was day. I was certain.And there was sunlight. I strained to catch even a blurred image of the sun, butI couldn't. I was blind. I wept, then, falling to the ground. My sisters suddenlynoticed me, and tried to guide me to my room. I pushed themaway.
"The whole world had turned black, everything was darker thandark. I had no appetite. As the days passed, I grew thinner and weaker. Istrained each day to see, but I couldn't. I began to forget what colors lookedlike, though I struggled to remember. Memories of sight fade quickly when you donot see.
"It did not take me long to realize that the dream I hadcarried within me for such a long time - becoming an artist - was now impossible.Whoever heard of a blind artist? Any artist thrives on the way colors look, theeffect of light on various scenes.
"My family did not know how longI could live like this, hardly eating. Concerned, my father turned to his brotherfor help. And so my uncle came, looked at me and asked to take me away to hishouse in the country.
"They consented, to my dismay. I did not wantto go anywhere, but my parents had agreed, and I could do little. So I went withmy uncle to his cabin, sharing his small home. He was not a rich man, nor was hepoor. He was a musician, and money did not come by him easily.
"Iwas young, too little to understand his efforts to try to make me happy. He waskind even when I was ungrateful, even when, angry with him for taking me awayfrom home, I threw his food onto the floor.
"As time passed,however, I grew more thankful for him. He was firm, I realized, but loving. Oneday, he took me to the creek near the cabin. I remember it clearly. The wind wasgentle, blowing my hair. The sunlight was warm. The air tasted fresh, likewildflowers, almost. I listened to the creek.
"That was the perfectday. I long, even now, to see it. But years have passed since I have seen with myeyes. I have forgotten what it is like already.
"My uncle took meout on that summer day, and we both stood, listening to the creek and the way thewater flowed over stones.
'Listen,' he said. I paused, and did so. 'Whatdo you hear?' he asked me.
'The wind. I hear the wind blowing in thetrees.'
'The wind in the willows,' said my uncle. 'The willow is one ofmy favorite trees.' He guided my hands toward the trunk. 'Feel the gentle bend ithas. Its leaves dip down into the water, sending ripples. Listen to the leavesrustle - they whisper, almost, moving gracefully.'
"I smiled, shakingmy head. 'However beautiful its movements, I cannot see them. Nor can I see theripples the leaves make once they touch the water's surface.'
'If youlisten carefully enough, you might surprise yourself.'
'What do you mean?'I asked, curious.
'I mean that there are more ways to see than one. Youhave lost your sight. And to lose that is terrible. But you can still hear, youcan still feel. I mean that you should treasure those gifts. Maybe, if you do sowell enough, you might be able to see with them instead ofsight.'
'Really?' I asked, dubiously.
'Images are not only ofsight. They are of feeling, too, and sound. Listen again. Forget about seeingwith your eyes. Feel this willow's shape. Listen to the leaves, and the way theyrustle.'
"I closed my eyes, though it would have made littledifference if I had kept them open. 'I see,' I whispered, as a new image formedin my mind. It was of sound and feel. Of the feel of the rough bark, the gentlearch of the trunk. Of the sound the leaves made when rustled by wind. Theycombined to form the image of the willow and the creek, though I could see nocolors or shapes. It was strange, this new way of seeing. Yet it left me with avivid image of my environs.
"We stood there till the sun set, simplyenjoying what the wind and the creek and the willows had to offer. That night, hetook out his violin and played. I had heard him many times before, but for thefirst time, I listened carefully, trying perhaps to form an image of sound theway that I had that day. I wanted to play this instrument. I wanted to make thatkind of sound.
"I waited till he had finished, then said, 'I want tolearn. If you will teach me, I will learn.'
"My uncle said in aserious voice, 'The violin requires discipline. Discipline to practice,discipline to learn. It requires patience and determination, as well as effort.And for you, it is especially difficult to play well.'
'Teach me, please.I can learn.' He paused, peering at me, probably, and then said, 'Tomorrow, then.And if you learn well, I will teach you more.'
"I nodded, and thenext day, as he promised, he taught. The violin was strange and unfamiliar in myhands - I could never make the bow glide across it smoothly. Sometimes, I wouldwistfully listen to my uncle play, wondering if I might play as well as hesomeday. For me, though, to learn was not an easy task. I had to listen to eachnote, to make sure that each was in tune. I could not simply see where my fingerswere placed.
"I had my share of difficulties to endure; they weregreater than many others of my age. There were days when I was frustrated, dayswhen I never wanted to pick up the instrument again. But my uncle was firm. I haddevoted so much time to it, there was no turning back. With his guidance, Iprogressed.
"And then came the day, after playing with many squeaksand scratches, that I finally played well. It came so suddenly that it wassurprising. Finally, my bow brushed the string gently, instead of pressing. Andthe notes - they were in tune. Then, I understood the beauty of music. All mypracticing, all my frustration, was worth it. I played the song over and overagain, marveling how everything seemed to fall into place. I had found a newpassion, one that filled the emptiness in my heart. I had forgotten that kind ofpassion since I painted. And for the first time, it truly sank into my mind thatseeing could be done in different ways.
"The artist sees through theeye, the violinist sees through sound. The artist sees the beauty in each shape,each color; the violinist sees the beauty in each ring of a note, each stroke ofa bow. Art and music are connected, not as different as one might think. Sight isnot only through the eyes; it is through feeling, through understanding, throughsound. Images can be of thoughts or ideas - to see in many ways, is one of thegreatest gifts one can value."
And so the violinist's words ended,leaving all who were present to ponder their meaning.
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