Most folks you meet in the world are ordinary. They grow up straight and narrow, listenin' to all their folks teach, (despite their protestrations to the contrary.) They fall in and out of love as teenagers, they go off to work, or to college, they marry, and start families of their own. But every once in a while, in amongst the ordinary, you find a gem. A blossom on the tree of life.
Every great once in a while, there's someone whose talent is so extraordinary, it seems the light of heaven shines directly through their hands, heart, or vision.
Gemma was such a creature. Small-boned, dark-haired, and big black eyes so lovely you were almost afraid to look. Either the Devil himself, or God the Almighty dwelled in those eyes, or so the gossip ladies used to twitter. Gemma was oblivious to her beauty, though, which was probably just as well, because had she realized, the results on the male population of this small town could have been devastating. The only thing Gemma had eyes for, though, or rather, ears, was her music. Gemma was a flautist, but she was such a one that led not mice out of Hamlin, but rather lost souls to their God.
Gemma was a wild little thing as she was growing up, always running off into the woods, or up to the hills above the town. She had a habit of disappearing for a half a day or more, when no one could find hide nor hair of her. Her mama was okay with that after Gemma got to be about eight, but before that, I can't tell you how many times the whole town was called out to search for that "lost" child. Her mama would be on the phone calling every one of us, asking if we'd seen Gemma that day. Gemma was all right - she was always all right. Once her mama realized that, she was able to loosen the strings a bit, and let Gemma really fly. The rest of us admired Gemma's freedom in some ways, but at the same time resented it, because we would never be allowed the same kind of freedom.
She learned her music in the beginning, from Miss Lacey's grandma. Mrs. Martin taught music theory over at the community college in Durwood County. She taught Gemma until she was about 12, but after that, she just threw up her hands, and said that she'd taught all she knew. She did get Gemma an audition at the college with the head of the music department, but in the end, Gemma didn't want to be tied to the routine of classes two hours away, three afternoons a week, so she ended up not goin'.
You never saw Gemma without her flute. When the new teacher at the school suggested that Gemma might play in a little school band the teacher was putting together, you could see Gemma blanch at the thought. Hers was not the music of bands, or orchestras, hers was the music of pixies, dryads, sirens and the wind. Gemma was terrified that she would have to play such heresies as Sousa marches, or "Hail to the Chief", and so for two weeks, she went to school every day, without her flute, and you could see the suffering in her eyes. In the end, the teacher relented, and agreed not to press Gemma about "desecrating" her flute in that way.
If you've ever sat in the stillness of an afternoon on top of a mountain, listenin' only to the magic around you, you'll have an idea of what it was like to hear Gemma playing her flute. Gemma never minded a little audience when she played, though I know for a fact that she avoided such things as concerts and recitals. Gemma played for the love of playing, for the challenge of whisperin' with the wind, and for the glory of the music itself. If you believed in God, you could hear Him in Gemma's music, if you didn't believe in God, by the end of her playin', you would start to wonder why not.
At certain times of the year, around solstice, the earth and the moon begin between them a dance. They play, and tug at each other, and stretch thin the bounds between the mystical and the real. It was at one of these times, during the September solstice, that Gemma had her vision. It was one of the few times in my lifetime, that I've been so stirred by an event that I could not speak of it afterwards. It's taken these many years to be able to see it clearly, and talk of it now. I had joined Gemma and four or five others up into the mountains that day. They're really not much more than hills, but we've always been proud of them, and they even have a designation as "mountains" on the government folks' maps. We walked for an hour or two, not a hard hike by any means, but a slow, steady wandering up to one of our favorite places to listen to Gemma play.
The clearing where we liked to sit, was small, just grass, trees, and a few chipmunks poking their heads up every once in a while. We sat, or laid in the grass, lazily talking of our friends, the gossips in town, boys, just anything that suited our fancy. It was autumn, and there was the tiniest start of a chill in the air if you were too close to the shadows of the trees, but a delightful warm sunshine if you move out to the middle. Gemma, as usual, was softly playing her flute, listening less to us, then we were to her. Gemma's music grew, as by and by, our conversation stilled, there seemed to be more music to say, than words.
Listening to Gemma play was always an experience; her genius shone so clearly through, her emotions laid so very bare for all to see. No descriptions I could give you could begin to describe the magic of that last concert in the hills. Is there such a thing as a perfect note? How about a whole afternoon of them? Wouldn't that kind of magic be powerful enough to call even God to listen? Listen he did, I believe, and it seemed as if he listened so hard, and wanted to keep Gemma with him so badly, that even afterwards, none of us moved a muscle, for a good long time. Gemma sat still even longer than the rest of us, transfixed, as if locked in a vision she wasn't willing to give up.
This, was a true ecstasy.
Now, I see the way you're all lookin' at me. A little embarrassed that I'd speak so, but I do believe that what we experienced was a bit like the ecstasy that you hear tell the saints experienced. It was scary, it was wonderful, it was enlightening, it was profound. It was also a bit like bein' caught half naked with your boyfriend by the town sheriff. It simply isn't something that's easy to talk on, and so we never did.
Gemma was gone by Christmas, following some musical will o' the wisp that none of the rest of us could share, that none of the rest of us could fully understand, even those of us that had been with her that afternoon. I hope she flies with angels, even now.