My talk with the Fiddler
The sound of a violin. It is a wonderful sound; it has great high pitch range, easy to follow with a song, like a voice from the trees, singing their own song, a concerto solo for the forest of silence. For me, whenever I hear a violin, I imagine a fresh breeze that blows through my very being, carrying more than just noise through my bones, but the touch of a refreshing story written upon the voice of the violin.
It was the sound of a violin that stopped me during my walk through Anatevka, a haunting noise that had a touch of cheer in its song, despite the despair of the winter cold that had come to settle in the town. I look around to find where the song could be coming from, and I found a fiddler on the roof of a barn.
A fiddler on the roof of a barn…. To me, the world is full of hidden surprises and wonder. I have seen a chicken ride on the back of a crocodile, elephants swimming in the ocean, men who dress in amazing costumes, woman who had lived in doll houses, and a mummy who smoked cigars made of books. A fiddler on the roof is but another great wonder to behold, and can be added to my list of awe with a simple glance, a grin, and a passing by.
However, at times there are moments that procure more than just wonder. At times, there will be a few moments that prompt curiosity.
I walked into the barn, welcomed by a few cows and a horse with a look of an experienced restaurant host. I found a few ladders for me to climb up, and made my way up to the roof.
It was a rickety structure of loose shingles. Every step that I took needed a focus and careful care of balance, as each roof shingle felt like they were going to give away if I walk a little to the left or to the right. It made my walk to the fiddler feel like a journey that took a day, as I try to make sure that every step that I took stayed in a straight line, slow and precise.
At last I took my stand next to the fiddler, who continue to play on his violin a haunting song of cheery disposition. Below us were crowds of people, bundled in layers of clothes, dragging with them all manners of belongings. There were a few that had stacks of pillows that were tied down with rope and jackets, while there were others who struggle to carry four boxes at a time. Families were huddle together as they pushed their carts filled with clothes and food, a combination of keeping warm with their bodies and the hope that the cart would shield them from the cold. This cart, however, also had a man pulling in the stead of a small horse.
“An exodus of a new start,” the fiddler said, “In order for the new to dawn, the old must one day set.”
He kept playing his violin while he was telling me this.
“Would you mind telling me a story,” I asked.
“I certainly have a long one to tell,” the fiddler replied, “but what a queer question to ask. Before I tell you a story, can I ask you why you would want a story?”
“The same reason why you are on this roof,” I replied.
“You know why I am on this roof?” he said, “Please tell me what is your answer.”
“Simple,” I said, “Because you can. Why not play on a roor? Why not play a fiddle?”
The fiddler began to laugh when I gave him my answer, his song picking up a few crescendos as it increase in its dynamic and speed.
“Why not be in a spot where you can have a view of all stories intertwine as one to become a tale for this whole village,” I added.
The fiddler began to slow down his song. I was not sure if he was caught off guard by my ridiculous answer, or if it was part of his song, but there was no doubt that he slowed his tempo. We turned our gaze back to the people as they walk down the road, leaving the town behind. The fiddler’s song began to take pace with their step, a parade anthem of farewell for each one of them, leaving behind a tale for us to relive… I hope.
“See that man over there,” the fiddler said, “That man was the wealthiest man in the village, birthing his riches from the business of butchery. Funny how much a man can make by a few cuts of steak, however there is a sense of charity when a man delivers life to others, for a man’s happiness can be measured by the joy of the cut of his meal. Despite that, he had tragedies gather around him, like flies around a rotten carcass. First he became a widow, and then he was denied marriage for a girl who he trusted.
‘Still, it is good to see a man rise above the challenges of life rather than succumbing to the vices around him. Wealth, gluttony and jealousy have devoured many men of less nobility, and yet this man still rose as a noble pack wolf.
The fiddler tipped his hat in the direction of a family of three, who were carrying a cart of many clothing materials.
“That family is one of my many favorite stories,” he continued, “Commitment and devotion, twenty years in the making. To me, they are the picture of tradition at its prime, the finest of marriage built not on gain but hope, not gifts but joy. In fact, the young wife was planned to be engaged to the butcher, but plans were changed when the two came out with their undying affection to their families. They have endured poverty, fear and ridicule together, never wavering or changing from their course from each other; and wouldn’t one say that is how a man and his relationship with traditions should be? It had been my joy to see their lives day by day, from its rising to its setting, and rise again to setting, never changing from their paths.”
“Which reminds me,” he continued, “there was once a man here who moved like the moon, living life parallel to this family, for while this man was a tower of tradition, the other was a majestic winds of change. A fellow jew, yet he was not tied to the earth as this village was, but he was a face of the growth and changes that the world around us continue to endure. He was a mighty voice of growth, of economics, of politics, and surprisingly of history. However, the mountains will always prove to forever stand against the winds, and when he return to his home town for a time, he was by landslide wrath of the government. He was whisked away to Siberia, and so did his beloved, who of her own accord was swept into his trust and would follow him to and part of the world.”
His song rose and fell with every step that the people took, every beat by beat was a shadow of every step to step. The song had a chill while I listen, an upbeat rhythm of reflection and requiem, and I couldn’t understand how such a song can have a feeling of lightness despite the view of dreariness that the fiddler and I were watching as more villagers began to leave their homes and walk through the bracing winds of this winter.
“And that man,” the fiddler started again, “a bull of a man, in the place of a horse, who had dream of being rich, yet has always been rich in character and compassion. The milkman, oh the milkman, a center piece nail that held together so many stories in this village, a bit of a cornerstone of all the stories here to become an archway of tales.’
‘The he is the father of five daughters, two of which I had already mention, the one married to the tailor and the one engaged to the jailed teacher. The milkman...milkman…. All he does he tries his best; he tries to be the best he can as a man, the best as a Jew, the best as a father, the best a poor man. His medal of merits for his efforts are the miseries which he bears on his beard and shoulders. The poor man, nothing seemed to go right with him, and yet he did nothing wrong, only the right.’
‘And within that very misfortune that forces him to wear the horses yolk is what crowns him a hero of Jews, for it is by misfortune that we can only become our best. He is the result of his forefathers like Abraham, Jacob, Job and Joseph. All they ever knew was misery, travels and persecution, for such is a Jew's life. However, they are the chosen to bear eternal treasures, here and in paradise. Treasures of character, and treasures in heaven.”
At long last the fiddler stop his song and, with surprising lightness, hop off the roof and began to walk behind the milkman. I followed, as best as I can, until I was able to catch up with the two of them. We walked on in silence as the wind whistled through the dirt and rocks, more loud than chilly. Somehow walking with a quiet fiddler made me feel just as warm as listening to his music, unbothered by the winter winds. I wonder if the villagers felt the same, as they walked on in the same manner as their forefathers had in the past, so long ago.
“I must admit,” the fiddler said, “I do enjoy the company of the milkman.”
“Why is that,” I ask.
The fiddler turn to me and smiled, saying “Because he talks to me a lot.”
The fiddler walked ahead and began to slowly play again. As he did, the milkman turned his head to the sound of his song. The fiddler gave a small smile, as an old friend gives to his dearest friend. The milkman was tired, rugged, but still he jerk his head and invited the fiddler.
As I watch the fiddler play behind the milkman, I realize I could not feel the cold around, or the misery of the sight. All that I could feel was something warm, everytime I thought about the moments when I was talking with the Fiddler.