One rainy night, a young man entered a graveyard in Missoula, Montana. He had no umbrella, but he was not empty handed. He clutched a slim musical instrument case. Judging from his tee shirt and shorts, one would have to assume that the day was much warmer than the evening. The rain had brought a cool breeze to the area.
He passed by several graves, but the names were too difficult to read off the stones. There was a bend in the road, and the young man looked up at a domed mausoleum. It’s stone facade was crowned by a statue of St. Peter, and flanked by heraldic lions. The young man stepped off the path. He had found the tomb he was looking for.
The grass smushed beneath his feet, and the unsettled ground was difficult to walk on, but he was determined. Halfway between the path and the mausoleum, set his instrument case on the ground, opened it, and assembled his clarinet. Within seconds, beautiful music filled every corner of the cemetery, and as he played, a light began to glow within the mausoleum. The young man halted his music, and grinned at the sight.
“I have wandered over every terrain this country has to offer,” the young man said. “I have traveled by car, bus, and plane to track you down.” The light grew brighter. The mausoleum’s copper gates began to shake.
“In truth, this journey was not entirely about you,” continued the young man, “It has been about me, and the traits we have in common. Grandma always said I had your eyes, and your prominent nose, and—most importantly—your music skills. She told me of your sense of humor, but also warned me of your temper. I would like you to know that I didn’t come here to yell at you. I merely came here to assure you, and myself, that I will not be following in your footsteps.”
The gates shook even harder. “I had a dream that your mistakes became mine; that I had a family I abandoned,” he said. “I turned my back on my dreams, and sacrificed what was really important for an ill-conceived idea of freedom.”
The gates shook faster…and faster…and faster… until they were thrown open. The man remained steadfast when out of the light stepped an older man with his eyes and nose.
“It’s a very youthful mistake to place all your blame on me,” said the old man.
“Do you deny walking out on your family?” asked the young man.
“I was never meant to be a father or a husband,” said the old man, “I was—am—too obstinate.”
“So am I,” said the young man, “but I want to change. I used to start arguments with everyone I meet; with waiters, colleagues, even my boss. I even enjoyed arguing sometimes, but your story showed me where such behavior might lead. Do you remember how you died?”
“Of course,” said the old man, “I fell into one of my mines.”
“You were walking alone at night,” said the young man. “They didn’t find your body for three days.”
“It was the weekend,” said the old man.
“What made you go into mining?” said the young man, “You were a trained violinist?”
“I adapted,” said the old man. “Mining paid better.”
“But you only supported yourself,” said the young man. “What did you need all the money for? What good is freedom, if it doesn’t allow you to have or do what you love?”
“You think you would have done differently?” said the old man. “Even you must realize the power of money.”
“I realize it just as much as anyone,” said the young man, “but I believe no amount of money was worth the cost you paid. Music made you happy, and you could have had a successful career surrounded by family and friends.”
“Maybe,” said the old man, “but it was safer to go after a clear money-maker, and I was content with my solitude.”
“So, you would do it all over again?” asked the young man as the rain began to fall even harder upon him.
“Yes.” said the old man.
“You would still have built this monument to yourself?” asked the young man.
“Yes,” the old man repeated.
“I appreciate your honest,” said the young man, “and I would like to thank you for changing my opinion. It turns out that despite all our similarities, we are entirely different people. I don’t know if I will ever find love, or success with my music, but I do know that I have the courage to try.”
“Come back in a few years,” said the old man, “You might feel differently.”
“If I do feel differently, I will come back here, and you’ll only remind me who I am.” The young man put his clarinet back in its case, and headed back down the hill. He didn’t look back at the mausoleum until he was outside the cemetery grounds, and by that time the internal light had faded. The stone structure stood dark and alone.
This story was written by Alex Schattner (8/6/12)