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Echoes of Schubert

posted Feb 9, 2015, 11:56 AM by James Wu   [ updated Feb 9, 2015, 12:12 PM ]
Yesterday, I saw the Hurdy-Gurdy man,
Gingerly scraping away on a fiddle.
To his feet were bound, one a castanet,
The other, a lever which, upon depression
Cleverly struck a small cymbal against
His worn, empty box of a seat.

It was plenty cold that day, and I
Had hurriedly arrived upon the
Opposite bank of the train tracks.
First I heard him, and I knew this was
No ordinary sound, for its loneliness
Was excruciating, yet in its isolation
Was somehow festive; as if a demented
Jester's parody of a fiddler on the roof.

I journeyed down the platform to see
For myself this delightful ghastliness.
What sort of band plays with such a
Ghastly sound yet tears at my heart so
That I cannot turn away! And then I saw
Him.

There was no band, no fiddler prancing
Maniacally in ghastly synchronization
With a herd of drummers. No, it was he;
A stoic old man with a wool cap perched
Atop his crooked head. With bare hands
He held his fiddle, and upon them were
Stocked winter's deathly fingers; they
Could barely move, yet the same haunting
Tune churned out time and time again to
The cemented, uncaring echoes of that
Underground crevasse we were at the moment
Inhabiting.

Passersby came and went. Trains arrived
And departed. No one heeded the lonely
Song of the Hurdy-Gurdy man. And as we
Sat, he kept on playing.

Suddenly I sprung up from my seat in a
Silent rage, for what did the Hurdy-Gurdy
Man have to sit on? Nothing! Nothing
Besides an old box... and what have I
Done to deserve a seat on my civilized
Bench? Nothing again!

Watching his bow tremolo across the
Strings of his fiddle, I once again
Noticed his cold deathly fingers. And
Feeling my gloves, I felt my anger
Rising again; for what did I do
To deserve the luxury of wearing them?
Nothing at all! Frantically I tore them
Off the warm, delicate flesh of my fingers
And flung them to the ground.

The Hurdy-Gurdy man keeps churning away
At his instrument.

A hand placed over my heart, aching
With pity.

From deep inside the depths of my mind,
A mysterious voice answered: "What did
he do to deserve his fate? Nothing again!"

And I quickly glanced at the end of the
Station, but the tracks were silent. And I
Hurried up the steps and crossed over
To the other bank where he sat, alone
And cold. With freezing fingers I pulled
From the warmth of my pocket, a single
Note of appreciation... and as I timidly
Approached and dropped it in the empty
Bucket at his side, an event so grotesquely
Magical thus took place: slowly, he turned
Toward me, moving only his head, while
His music making continued uninterrupted;
He looked at me with his beady, clouded
Blue eyes, and a smile that seemed so
Ancient, yet somehow possessed an
Unbelievable warmth; a warmth known only
To those who have witnessed the face of
Death itself and lived to tell the tale...

And as quickly as that incredible moment
Came, it had passed, and my train was
Arriving across that steel river at the
Opposite bank. As I rushed to secure a
Place for the journey back home, his music
drifted after me, still uninterrupted,
Still the same as it had always been...
And I realized that it really was music:
It was beautiful, because whatever we
Did or did not do in our lifetime to
Deserve what we have or do not have:
We are both alive, and that is something
To celebrate.

Hour after hour, the music of the
Hurdy-Gurdy man would continue.
Hour after hour, he would remain,
Unheeded.
But hour after hour, he still lives,
And being alive, I have come to realize,
Is a beautiful thing.
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