I started playing fiddle about five years ago. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I travel down to Toronto each week with my friend Eleanor and we play in a group called MSR Fiddlers (March, Strathspey, Reel is the acronym). This is a diverse group of folks of all ages, stages and abilities, brought together by the simple love of Cape Breton music, step dancing and the generous and loving spirit of our leader, Sandy MacIntyre.
I don’t remember much about my first year of playing with this group. I struggled mightily as I tried to learn the instrument, play and memorize tunes, and try to keep my feet from stomping when we’d really get a tune going. Trying to fit in was not on my list of priorities. Then again, this is not an organized group – we slip in at staggered times, acknowledge one another with a head nod or and wave, sit down and launch into tunes. This community of people come together once a week and play music, nothing more.
And then Leona got sick.
Leona, a Cape Bretoner through and through, was like sunlight on anything she touched. She makes me smile just thinking about her. It was her second battle with cancer, and despite her motorcycle adventures in the summer and her zip lining in the winter, our group knew that this battle was her last. So one evening a few weeks ago, at Lucy MacIntyre’s bidding, we did something that we’ve never done, at least not in the 5 years I’ve been going to play music.
We introduced ourselves to one another.
Names were exchanged. Street addresses and e mails, laughter and wishes and things that could have/should have/might have been done years ago. Characters like The Professor, The Teacher, Poodle Man (he brings his miniature poodle!) and The Older Lady now had real names. People learned that they actually lived down the street from one another.
We were a disparate community of musicians who had morphed into a community of friends in a moment, simply because one precious member of our community was going to leave us.
I believe we all have different communities in our lives. Our immediate families are a community, often extended to cousins, uncles, aunts, once removed or otherwise. I have my yoga community that meets every Thursday night, none of whom know my family. Or my friends from work, who make a huge community and are separate from other parts of my life.
These communities may or may not overlap, but it is our inclusion in those communities that gives us strength, a sense of belonging and a place in the world. They don’t have to be large; they just have to be.
Leona Au Coin, though if she were alive would most likely deny it, was a cornerstone of our fiddle community. She chose to learn the fiddle after having a stroke. She wanted something to help challenge and restore her brain. She somehow reached out to all of us in her own way, and helped shape us into this unique congregation of musicians and friends.
Her funeral is next week. Our community of fiddlers will gather at the funeral home with our fiddles and honour her life the only way we know how: play her favourite tunes. Because of her, we know each other’s names and we feel connected. We’ll also see members of Leona’s other communities at the funeral – her family, her travel friends, her work friends; so many people will be there to celebrate her life. And we will blend those communities, if only for a day.
To all my friends who read these musings of mine, I would ask that you take a moment and consider your own communities. You might surprise yourself when you realize how many communities you find yourself in. And to honour my Leona, take a moment and be thankful for those communities, and let all the members who touch your heart in some way know how very, very special they are.
Taking my own advice, if you are reading this, whether I know you or not, you are very much a part of my community, and I am so grateful for your presence.