Last Saturday night was exciting around my house for all the wrong reasons.
I had spent the day painting my hall ceiling and was dead tired. By 10:15 p.m., I was completely asleep when my neighbor called to say that the 15-foot oak tree that had been in my front yard was now in my driveway.
I wasn’t even aware that it was raining.
In fact, it was raining so hard, I could hardly see a tree or driveway from the window when I looked.
Two hours later, when the storm had subsided a bit, I was able to walk into the yard and see a minor miracle. A lumberjack couldn’t have dropped the tree more expertly where it would do no harm. It missed my garage by a few feet. If it had fallen the other way, it would have killed me in my sleep.
I rarely put my car in the garage, but I had done so on Friday on a whim. In the driveway, it would have been crushed. As it was, it didn’t even get wet.
The garage was completely blocked, and the power was out so my garage door wasn’t working.
“I hope you weren’t planning on going anywhere,” one of my neighbors said as we looked over the mass of lumber and toothpicks in my driveway.
That’s the sort of thing you say to each other when you realize how lucky you are.
• • •
My family has some history on this sort of thing.
One Saturday evening in 2000, a spring thunderstorm was rolling into Knoxville, Tennessee, where my mother lived at the time.
She was working at her desk and noticed the storm coming. She thought the she should unplug her computer, fearing a nearby lightning strike might damage it. In an instant, a giant pine tree came crashing through the room.
In that moment, there was another minor miracle. The desk probably saved her life by shielding her. When she crawled out of the wreckage she had nothing more than a black eye and a broken pair of glasses.
Insurance covered most of the cost of rebuilding her home. What it didn’t cover, she could afford.
As she said to me then, “It’s only money.”
• • •
Before I had even been able to assess completely what had happened in my front yard Saturday night, I did what any modern person does in that sort of situation: I started posting on Facebook. Friends were posting storm damage of their own. A lot of them had much worse damage than I did.
I was lucky.
Ed Martinez, a friend and former member of the Tulsa World’s Community Advisory Board, reached out with the name of a bonded and insured tree guy, who I talked to the next day. He gave me a fair price and a quick schedule and by 8 a.m. Monday the work had begun.
It’s amazing what three men, one chainsaw and one truck can do in three hours. I watched through my living room window. The work would have taken me a week, if I had been so foolish as to try it, and then I would have been in bed, wishing for death, for another week.
While I was watching the work from the comfort of my living room, my phone alerted me to something I had been looking forward to.
On Friday, I had set a reminder on my calendar to the fact that Tulsa Symphony Orchestra was going to debut Noam Faingold’s new composition, “We Persist: An Anthem for Virtual Orchestra,” on YouTube.
The chainsaws roaring outside, I clicked around until I found the video.
The piece starts with solo French horn, performed in the debut by TSO third horn Derek Matthesen, setting the theme. It’s a haunting little melody and begs the listener to make up lyrics to it.
Gradually, 45 other members of the orchestra join in, building the piece dramatically.
I recognized friends and acquaintances of some 25 years in the 4½-minute video performance … and some faces I didn’t know. Orchestras are like that: A few mainstays who make a city their home. They buy homes and raise families and act as mentors to the talented rising young professionals who come through to share their talent and move on.
Later Monday, when nothing but a little sawdust and a stump remained of my tree, I was reading a book in the living room and caught myself humming.
It was the theme to “We Persist.”
I don’t know if it’s the new Nimrod variation, only time will tell. But I can say the tune sticks with you.
Faingold told my colleague, James Watts, that he wrote “We Persist” in response to the coronavirus epidemic. Knowing how it would be performed by scattered, connected only by electronics, he wrote it in a Zoom-friendly fashion.
It seems orchestras — and other human institutions — don’t only persist. They adapt, too.
Later, a friend who has known pain far greater than a lost tree in recent months reached out to offer me some sympathy.
It was kind of him, and it made me think of my mother saying, “It’s only money” back in 2000.
All I lost was a tree. Such a loss is survivable with a little persistence.