My son sold the following story to Encounter-The Magazine. It will appear in the Fall, 2015.
The gift. It was a small thing in one sense. She did stuff like this all the time. But it wasn’t a small thing. It is mine only because of her kindness.
It was just another Wednesday night. I was going to a program they had at Southside Baptist Church where they taught music for free. We drove into the German Village area, where most buildings are made of brick and the streets are so thin that you can barely fit one car and yet people still park on the street. We pulled into the parking lot a few minutes early as always. I got out of the car and grabbed my old student violin. I walked across the parking lot and down the concrete steps into the church. Inside the cacophony of sounds hit me as always. I heard banjoes being tuned and guitars being strummed, mandolins being plucked and violins being bowed. I put my case down on the pew and opened it. I pulled out my old violin. I tightened my bow and walked into the back room where lessons were held. Inside the room sat three or four different people, including Mary, an older lady who had been coming for a few months. She always brought a different violin. I grabbed a chair and sat down. I noticed a violin case sitting in the middle of the room.
“It’s beautiful,” I said, and it was. The body was slim and perfectly formed. The neck was a little wider than some, but also thin. The varnish was a deep, rusty red, and the back had the stripes that I’ve always admired on the good violins. I took up my bow and began to play a sweet sad tune called ‘Ashokan Farewell.’ The violin had a tender sound in my hands as I played. Each note sounded so much more beautiful than on my own violin.
After I finished Mary spoke. “This is a Hoff violin. It was factory made in nineteen hundred. It was pretty badly damaged when I found it. I pretty much had to glue it all back together.” Mary smiled at me. “And it’s yours.”
I was shocked. This was completely unexpected. It was a work of art. It was an impossible gift. It was so generous of her to do this for me.
“Thank you,” I said. It was all I could say. “Thank you so much.”
Now several years later I still play that violin, though I now play it under a Doctor of Music in a classical setting, rather than at a church in a group of beginners. Even today I’m still astounded by her kindness to me, giving me the violin. It’s a gift that I didn’t earn, a free gift. It was one the greatest gifts of my life.
Of course, there is a greater gift that I was given. Another gift I didn’t deserve; another ridiculous and wondrous gift. A gift that cost much more. A gift that cost the life of the Man who gave the gift. A Man that didn’t give me a temporal gift, but an eternal gift. A gift of eternal life with Him. It is the greatest gift of my life. It is the greatest gift.