Private celebrations. So far I've had two.
The first was when I was in college. I was a senior, in the English department, already engaged to be married to a man half a country away. In other words, I had nothing much to do.
So I decided to retrieve my violin from my parents' house, have it serviced, buy a fresh cake of rosin, and take private lessons. Having been 12th chair, second violin (or something like that) for most of high school orchestra, I decided I was unwilling to retire the instrument entirely until I had mastered it. Or if not mastered it, at least accomplished it.
When I started private lessons through the music department at Hope College, I was terrible. Truly. In high school I had squeaked by (quite literally) by pulling my bow across the strings ever so slightly so as not to be heard. By now, three years had gone by since I had even cracked the case, and so I sounded as awkward as I felt.
But still, I was undeterred. Even when the piano accompanist who was assigned to me (poor girl) actually shook her head during one of our rehearsals, I was determined to become proficient - in fact beautiful - at playing the only instrument I had ever enjoyed.
So all through the cold winter months of my senior year, I could be found in one of three locations: sitting in the closet on the phone with my fiance, cuddling on the futon with Liz Schofield, or standing in front of a music stand in a practice room on campus, playing my violin. I stopped practicing with the accompanist, for she was very busy, and so instead I played with a recording of her, matching my pitch, rhythm, and style to hers.
I practiced. And I practiced. And I practiced. No one but Liz, and Daniel (who was almost 800 miles away) knew what I was up to.
Until at last recital day came. It wasn't a recital so much as it was a test, before an empty auditorium save for my private instructor and two of her colleagues, who were holding critique sheets in their hands and skeptical looks on their faces. They had heard me at the beginning of the school year, and they had copies of the piece I had selected to play that day, and I could tell their confidence in me was weak.
And then there was my accompanist, who took her seat at the piano bench like a sheep going to slaughter. Poor dear.
But all at once, I lifted the bridge of my instrument and lowered my shoulder quickly, pulling my bow across the string and cutting through the silence of the empty auditorium. The note was in perfect pitch, with a chilling vibrato, and my accompanist heartily joined in until we were making music together; precise and lovely music.
I nailed the last note, letting it hang there in the air, as if bowing, and then I brought my violin and bow to my sides and faced my critics. They were smiling, and my instructor was beaming.
I looked at the piano, where my accompanist gave me a grateful grin.
And then, in absolute silence, I left the auditorium, stepping out into the hall. No one was there to congratulate me. No one at all. And so I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, congratulating myself.
The first of two private celebrations.
The second came much later. Eleven years later, in fact, when on August 18, 2013, at exactly 11:05 p.m., I finished my novel.
Daniel was out of town and unreachable by phone. The hour was too late to call my friends. I could have called someone in America, and indeed I considered it, but then I remembered the feeling of standing in that hallway after a near-perfect violin performance back in college, and I decided G0D was giving me another chance for a private celebration.
And so it was that I typed the last word of my first book, in the stillness of my apartment, on a quiet night, all alone. And the word seemed to echo, hanging there in the air, as if bowing. And my keyboard seemed to give me a grateful grin.
And my heart beamed.