Only 30% of kids in the Texas foster care system graduate from high school. That makes those who do exceptional and worthy of commendation. The nonprofit Day1Bags.org which provides backpacks for foster kids had an idea: give a homemade quilt to every kid who is graduating from high school. The Texas Quilters Facebook page exploded with volunteers and a worthy project was launched. State-wide, 684 quilts with specific criteria for the project were donated. These were gifted to the graduates at parties coordinated by entities in the various areas that work with foster children. 2022 was the first year of this mission and 2023 promises to be even more successful.
I wrote this piece a few years back after a nightmare and real life experience. Today I went to a music recital where kids were showing their love for music which I hope stays with them always. The music teacher is in this piece and I thought it might "strike a note" with readers. It has been published a couple of times and adapted to a prose poem for the AIPF. This is the original "Just One Note."
Just One Note
The nightmare flashed through my mind just as I parked the car near the Fine Arts Center. The lot wasn’t yet full, only the choir was arriving for the evening concert to be held in the university auditorium. Closing my eyes, I fought the vision running through my head and the distress it created.
The images displayed a large hole in the earth opening and pulling carpet-like grass and trees and me into it. The helplessness was terrifying. I struggled to escape and attempted to cry out. That muffled shout caused my husband to awake me from the uneasy sleep and I lay fearful of sleep and continuing the nightmare for a long while. Many hours later, in the light of day right there in the car, those emotions were returning and the panic with it.
It was the same force which had been in the nightmare, I was sure. A pressure, a power like some giant magnet pulled at my soul. This was indeed the identical terror I felt in the night which now caused my pulse to quicken. Why now? Right before the big concert? Forcing my eyes open to see the real world I saw vans stop and black tuxedoed figures carrying instruments in cases toward the doors of the Fine Arts Center. The orchestra was there. Taking a deep breath, I shook my head quickly side to side and rubbed my palms together to warm them and dispel the discouraging emotions raging within me.
The pressure and negativity subsided, so I gathered my music notebook and made way into the building. Seeing smiling faces and feeling the growing excitement of being one of over one hundred voices accompanied by a professional orchestra caused me to relax and join the others in preparation. But as we filed onto the stage to take our places, my eyes were drawn to the back of the auditorium. The magnet-like pressure abruptly grabbed my very being.
Something was out there. It was some THING in human form. Dressed in a gray suit, it appeared stiff and formal, much like the character, Mr. Carpenter, from The Day the Earth Stood Still, the classic science fiction movie my husband watches every time it is aired on television. The people walking past it do not seem to notice its presence. With certainty, I knew it was the source of the pressure and had been with me since the nightmare. In a controlled panic, I glanced about, but found no escape. With a brave heart, I looked toward the being.
Suddenly, I knew why it was there. To study me, to see me as an example for mankind. Somehow I also knew other people in other places were also being studied, but this being was there to examine me. The magnitude of this caused me to almost crumble under the strain. I had to remain strong and not cause a scene. The concert was important, the 40th anniversary of the collaboration of the community and university choirs. A professional orchestra performing in our little town. It was a unique situation, for sure, but why focus on me? I am just a normal person, not rich, not famous, not beautiful or especially talented. Just one person in the big group who loved to make music.
A feeling of skepticism and some hostility came from the THING which caused me to feel even more shaky and weakened. Breathing deeply, I felt my elbow touch the woman beside me. I sensed her presence, her strength, her gentleness and, fighting tears, I drew power from the connection. Then the first violinist stood and nodded to the oboe player. With her instrument, she played one note, so clear and full and focused, from which the entire orchestra tuned their instruments. The concert was about to begin. I felt the THING was interested, the negativity and pressure lesson, and I took heart. It seemed surprised when the choir and orchestra stood when the conductor took the stage. This is a traditional show of respect for that one man. He, too, is just a regular guy, a supremely talented choir director who is thrilled to be conducting an entire orchestra and the many voices. We love him and he loves us. He raised his baton and the concert began.
Throughout the concert I was aware of the THING, but became consumed by the wondrous music being made by the instruments and voices. These sounds feed my soul. To be a part of that, to lose myself in the whole, that was why I was there. To experience the awe of being a piece of a grand picture. There are a few of those moments. A childhood friend, an opera singer, called it “the top of the mountain experience.” They are few, but those moments are why we do what we do.
The THING, which may have been on Earth to destroy us, to annihilate our society, to blast our very existence into eternity, let me know it could feel the magic of the music, the beauty, and it understood why we were there. From that first note through the last Hallelujah chorus, it stood still. I believed I could feel it was satisfied seeing the entire audience stand and applaud the result of the concert. We in the choir smile, are relieved, and are full of the music.
As the audience exited the auditorium to talk and partake of punch and cookies, it remained in place. The pressure, the magnetic pull again attached to me, but not with hostility. I walked toward him, against the flow of people with smiles on their faces. I was frightened, but could not stop walking until I faced it.
The edges of the unnatural eyes shined with light. It seemed much like a robot, hard and inflexible. Why didn’t anyone else see it? I knew, again, it was there for me. Then I heard a sound, much like that note the oboe played some ninety minutes before. It came from the being, as well as from myself. A hum, silent to the ear, but heard with my heart and mind.
The THING nodded once, ever so slightly, as if granting permission or conceding a point of contention. It turned away and disappeared. Shocked at the sudden release of the magnetic-like pressure, I stood looking at a wall for a time. My husband approached, touched my arm and asked if I was all right. Coming out of the trance, I smiled up at him and nodded. Yes, everything is fine. All it took was one note.
That one note saved my world.