Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Retuning My Life and My Fiddle

 I've honestly come to believe that life is a glorified exercise in letting go. Having a terminal illness at the age of forty has just sped this process up for me a bit. I went from caving, rock climbing, dancing, and fiddling in a band, to struggling just to walk to my mailbox. 

Things aren't as dire as they once were. Doctors are now giving me several years to live instead of just two. I can walk farther than the mailbox, even if going over half a mile makes me want to crumple onto the ground. And although I can play my violin, I can't stand and play for long periods, and I definitely can't dance while fiddling. In fact, one of the saddest things cancer stole from me, is the ability to play in a band. 

I've cried several times since 2020, remembering what it felt like to perform for an audience, missing the warmth of the stage lights on my face and the cheers from a live crowd. And at times, the loss of that dream has felt like too much...too quickly. 

"We want to bring you out," my dad said after I'd gone to visit my parents in Arizona. "Bring your violin."

My parents moved to Tucson, and they've made so many amazing friends there—but few compare to the people they've met at Far Horizons. They often visit the RV park several times a week to check on their motorhome or attend parties held at the resort. I've loved hearing their voices come to life on the phone as they talk about their friends and the fun they've had, and I could hardly wait to see it all in person.

I donned a dress my parents had bought me earlier that day, a tight black and white number with bright flowers. "Do I look terrible?" I asked my mom because I can't stand straight anymore and from the side, I looked quite hunched.

"You look beautiful," she said as my dad packed my violin into the truck, and we headed out. I smiled at my mom. Oh, to be loved by my mother ... it's a beautiful feeling.

Far Horizons is a lot different than I expected. People get up and dance. They really know how to have a great time. They're hilarious and fun, and I could see why my parents enjoy being retired in Tucson—it's an adventure!

"Why did you want me to bring my violin?"

"Just wait for the band's next break, and you'll see," my dad said.

In between meeting my parents' friends, I felt stunned by the band's music. Despite only having three members, they nailed song after song, even having the drummer sing lead and harmonies as well. Finally, they took a break, and my dad rushed up on stage. He laughed and smiled, then he pointed to me. My mom and I ended up going over after that.

"They said you can play," my dad said. "She can play anything," he said to the lead guitarist.

I couldn't help beaming. "You'll really let me play?" I asked.

"We just drop down a half-step. Are you up for it?"

"Of course, I am!" I gushed. And I quickly retuned my fiddle, just so I'd have the correct flow. 

The lead singer showed me a bunch of their set list, and then pointed to "Margaritaville." "How about this one?"

I had to swallow my emotions because that's a song I always played with my old band, Rough Stock. "Sure," I said, keeping my voice steady. "That ... Well, that sounds great." I paused. "I have terminal cancer," I explained. "I had to quit playing in my old band, and that almost killed me more than the tumors in my spine. Anyway ..." The drummer had come over and studied me seriously. "Thanks for letting me do this. It means a lot more than you might know." They nodded, not saying much even if empathy shone from their eyes.

So I played "Margaritaville," hitting all of the right notes and confidently playing the solo. I peered out at the crowd, remembering how surreal it felt to play for a live audience. And even as my legs started to shake from the pressure of standing in one place for too long and my spine started pulling awkwardly from the tumor at the base of my spine, I thought I couldn't be happier. The lead guitarist gaped at me, saying he was so impressed. My parents grinned, talking to their friends and then pointing to me. And joy flooded through every part of my being.

After the song ended, the lead guitarist and the bassist both thanked me for playing, and the drummer grinned so wide. Tears filled my eyes as I stepped from the stage and felt blessed for a moment that so perfectly transported me back to when I wasn't sick and I could dance and giggle as I fiddled my heart out among some of my favorite people on earth: the members of Rough Stock. And as I put my violin away, trying to steady my quaking heart, I felt so grateful for the memories. I might not be able to do the same things, but at least I can say I've really lived.

"You did great, Elisa. You made us proud," my dad said. 

"That was awesome," my mom agreed.

And when we left, I threw some money in the band's tip jar, and the lead guitarist waved. "Thanks again to the guest fiddler, Elisa Magagna!" he said into the microphone, and so many people clapped and grinned at me, not even knowing how much their kindness lifted the previously sunken spirit of a 40-year-old who's still fighting to always find the good.

I turned back and looked at the three band members one last time. They might never know my whole story—how I had to leave so many dreams behind—but I'm stunned they trusted the words of a loving father and let me jam on stage with them. Even though life is different now, I'm grateful to still be making memories. Life doesn't have to end just because so much has changed. It's simply time to readjust my outlook, retune my life and my fiddle, and just keep moving forward.

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