For an instant, one crucial moment waiting on the edge, time stands still. Your bow is poised over the strings, your back stiff and straight, your eyes intense and your face laser-focused. I process every gritty detail while I hold my breath and wait for you to begin. This is when, with crisp clarity, I see the remarkable person you have become. Before your barely perceptible intake of breath and then the slight nod of your head to signal the pianist, I think about how you have ascended to such an exquisite and stunning height that you now occupy very rare air.
I don’t know how anyone can commit 13 minutes of music to memory—every note, every measure, every rhythm, finger position, stroke of the bow, and every intonation. It takes incredible tenacity, absolute, resolute, strength of mind, and an irrepressible spirit. But even then, it takes so much more than that to take that step onto the stage and sit in front of the judges and your teachers, your fellow musicians and your family—just you and your cello— and make that one final nod of your head. You have to be unbelievably brave.
The moment swells and fills the room. It gathers more weight with every passing second. There’s no turning back after the nod of the head.
What you memorized in the dining room in the comfort of your own home, surrounded by the familiar sounds of your adorable chinchilla chewing on the cage upstairs in your bedroom, and the commotion of your brother banging around in the kitchen getting his lunch, and with sporadic breaks to tell your Dad a quick anecdote about your friend Leah, and while gazing out over the piles of books and boots, coats, clothes, and colorful scarves, the pocketbooks and papers and snack cups piled up along your meandering trail through the house; what you memorized and practiced in your comfortable and cozy home you must now perform in a stark concert hall in front of a hushed and anxious crowd, facing a table of silent, stone-faced judges.
Collect all your courage and hang on tight to everything you think you are right now. Take a deep breath and remember everyone who believes in you. The moment intensifies, becomes crushing. Just a nod of the head separates the silence from the spectacle.
Eighteen now, and you are one formidable force. That’s what I thought in that crucial moment just before you nodded your head, sitting there perfectly poised yet scared to death, a finalist in the Concerto Competition. Before you drew that final breath, gave the nod, and played that first powerful note I thought, man you are fierce, you are amazing, and you are incredibly, breathtakingly courageous.
In just a nod of the head, it seems, this is who you have become. You are a person who doesn’t run or shrink or diminish under the weight of what you take on; you don’t give up or say it will be too hard or too much. You stare it down, stand your ground and with remarkable courage you deliver.
You are stunning and you are brave. With the cello you are ferocious, but beyond the cello you are every bit as mighty, intense, talented and tenacious. You are intuitive, insightful, sensitive and smart. What is there for everyone to see, but passes by the eyes of most, is never missed by you. You can capture the complexity of a person in a single wordless image, a stirring moment of emotion that shows the depth of their story. You are kind, compassionate and creative, and when you are inspired you have boundless determination and a dauntless spirit. You are nothing short of amazing, Rachie, and you have risen to sensational heights. Without a doubt, you occupy very rare air.
I can tell you this now and you will be able to understand what I am describing. The day your child is born you breathe in, give a symbolic nod of your head, and then the thrilling journey begins. It takes incredible tenacity, absolute, resolute, strength of mind, and an irrepressible spirit. There’s no looking back, no doing it over. You don’t run or shrink or diminish under the weight of what you have taken on; you don’t give up or say it will be too hard or too much. You stare it down, stand your ground and with remarkable courage you deliver. And as you watch your child do the same with the life you have given her you rejoice, you celebrate, and sometimes you have to bite your lip or else you’ll cry.
Rachel, I’m so proud of you. Happy eighteenth birthday. You are a beautiful person, fierce and courageous. Keep reaching, but always remember, you already occupy very rare air.
I love you. —Dad