Every now and again, I look back through my days on this spinning orb, and a few of them emerge as formative, special, treasured days. I named this site melmoirs; I suppose that occasionally, I should include an actual memoir. Re: the subject matter, please believe me, I have many stories of childhood, family, my husband, my kiddo—and they are precious. But this memory has been begging me to write it for years.
In my mind, I've christened the events to be detailed as a “found” weekend; you always read about lost weekends, in the lives of substance abusers or depressed people or famous people who happen to be both depressed AND abuse substances. But mine was a found weekend, a weekend that unexpectedly reminded me of all the possibilities in humanity, in the world, of the many people I can choose to become.
It was about a year and a half after I’d relocated to Pittsburgh. I had started working at a design firm, doing a job I actually half-enjoyed, had met lots of nice people there, and had made some friends. And to top off the upturn I’d recently experienced in my life, this particular weekend was great—the entire weekend. Now, seriously, how often does that happen in any life? It began early, on Thursday evening, when I went to see a performance of an August Wilson classic play with some friends from work. That was awesome. Then, Friday, met a gal pal for dancing silliness at a club—Metropol, before it had metamorphosed into a creepy place with semi-nude dancers hanging out on high platforms (yuck). Lots of limb-flailing fun was had. Saturday? I rang in St. Patrick’s Day with more buddies, partaking of some green beer in proper Irish fashion.
And Sunday. Oh, Sunday. I had been planning loosely to pick up nosebleed tickets to a symphonic performance in town that day, a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony—the “Rach 3” to those in the know. I happened to be in the know simply because I’d recently listened to some wise critics who recommended the movie “Shine” (which I, also, recommend—a rare and wonderful film from Australia, detailing the real life of piano genius David Helfgott. Rent it if you love classical piano music and/or quirky protagonists). The actor who portrays David performs the Rach 3 in the film. It made quite an impression on me.
The girlfriend who’d promised to accompany me to the symphony’s performance found herself stranded at her parents’ home, an hour away, in a mountain snowstorm. She called me Sunday morning, all apologies, but she could not get out of the driveway. I was doggedly determined to see this symphony, so I dressed myself reasonably well, complete with clunky snow-sturdy boots (my own fair city had also received some of the white stuff), and I drove down through tall drifts to the big city, parked the car in a nearby messy lot, and hiked through more sooty snow to Heinz Hall.
I won’t pretend to be a regular at that lovely venue. I can count on one hand the times I’ve ventured inside, but each one has been a magical experience. I headed toward the ticket windows, took my place in a line, wondered if I’d come for nothing, if all that remained were ridiculously pricey seats. The will call line was moving quickly, and the purchase lines weren’t so bad… but as it turns out, I waited only a moment for my ticket.
A well-heeled, elderly woman in fur suddenly strode among us line-dwellers. She spoke clearly: “Does anyone need just one?” I waited a beat, but no one else spoke up—most folks looked longingly at her, and then not-so-longingly at the companions standing next to them. I stepped toward her, leaving my place in line, and mustered the nerve to say, “I need just one.”
The woman turned to me and handed me a ticket: “Here, honey.”
“How much do you want for it?”
“Are you sure?”
“Take it, enjoy it.” She pressed it into my hand and turned, not before I’d snapped to my senses and called a surprised thank you after her. She was gone in a moment. I stood in disbelief, and a few folks who’d watched the exchange smiled encouragingly at me, happy to witness such an act of kindness.
I stared at the ticket I clutched, then shook myself and made my way inside—I’d only had about 15 minutes to spare when I parked my car, so it was likely the show would begin soon. The polished crowd was moving toward the inside of the hall, finishing drinks, locating seats. I had no idea where my seat was located; I immediately found an usher on the ground level entrance and asked for assistance in locating my gift seat.
The young woman looked at my ticket, then at me in my second-hand coat and sodden snow boots. “This is an excellent seat,” she said.
I smiled with heartfelt gratitude and told her, “A woman just gave it to me in the lobby.”
The usher raised her eyebrows and said, in equally heartfelt fashion, “Well, I’m jealous.” She led me forward, down onto the main floor, further down, and yet further.
“Where is this seat?” I asked. She smiled a Mona Lisa smile at me and walked on, and on.
And on. To the front row. Yes, the gift seat was in the front row. Positioned almost smack dab before the huge grand piano on stage. By now, my naïve face must have revealed my absolute shock and delight. “You were not kidding,” I said. “This is a great seat.”
Once I sat down, I actually had to let my head drop back a bit to see the piano. I tried to look casual and accustomed to such luxury, and leafed through my program, barely able to focus on the words within. What a sweet woman! Did she know how much this meant to me? Could she fathom, in her furs and expensive clothes? I had envisioned myself crouching in peanut heaven for this show, if I was even still able to purchase a ticket. Now here I sat, in row one, for free. Free. I wished I had followed her, thanked her properly, hugged her even. Had I known about the seat's location, my vociferous thanks would likely have frightened that sweet woman.
And then, lights dimmed and the symphony members made their way onto stage, did a quick tuning, and lastly the star pianist stepped out and was greeted with a wave of applause. I think he was German, at least his name sounded German, but his name was not important.
He played the hell out of that piano. I’m speaking figuratively, because there was nothing hellish about the music that erupted from his fingertips. I reclined in my amazing seat, gazing up in disbelief at his feverish hands dancing over the keyboard, and I wondered at such beauty. The music that leapt from that piano, from the symphony behind it, was heavenly. Not in a simpering, sweet, choirs-of-angels way—no, no. This was Rachmaninoff, remember? It thundered, clambered, swept over me, murmured, then thundered again. It washed away everything bad that had happened in months. It poured over me like blessings, like a massage, like sunshine on the first spring-like day in April. It emptied me of ugliness, at least for the moment; it warmed my soul with loveliness that I could never even imagine on my own. My God, what a feast for my hungry, hopeful ears.
And then the song was over, we were permitted to clap, and the audience roared, jumped to its feet, roared louder. It went on and on, and I was part of it, also roaring, clapping, smiling so widely my face risked cracks. There were two more pieces played after the intermission, and they were beautiful. But they stood no chance; they couldn’t begin to top the majesty of that Rach 3.
I stayed for the whole thing, drank it in, felt regal and rich, and then wandered dreamily out of Heinz Hall with a renewed vigor, with head held high. I had tasted splendor; I was changed forever.
See what I mean? A “found” weekend, truly—one through which I was able to rediscover the best things around me and in myself, wonders that I’d neglected for too long.