An Exceptional Gift from an Exceptional Woman
by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio
Blair Borden is one of those people you notice when she walks into a room. Her confidence and friendliness made her easy to get to know and easier to like. We always seemed to bump into each other at classical music concerts, art shows and other such community events. We've shared the same musicians' circle like moths enamored with a glowing bulb: our minds transfixed in the music scene of our small town.
I liked Blair from the first time we met. Blair's been a mover and a shaker in the local arts scene who gets a lot of work done. From events posters to playing with the Salmon Arm Community Band from its very inception, she’s been there 100 per cent. She is also a giver who would always rather donate than sell, volunteer than accept pay. She touches lives with inspiring generosity and casually shrugs it off. Blair has contributed and shared and gifted and now she's given something dear to me that I never would have expected.
She phoned me in the morning in a voice not confident or cheery, but breathless and tired. She has been sick for some time. In her classic “carry-on” spirit, she carried on through the cancer. I frequently saw her at the pool keeping in shape and she still photographed music events with the same gusto as always. I asked her how she was feeling from time to time and she always had a positive attitude. She helped me reflect that my hectic day or stressful schedule was nothing worth complaining about when compared to her daily fight to survive.
Honestly, I never thought the cancer would win. She'd come out ahead and go on to write a song about the battle won. So it was with some seriousness and sadness that I entered my phone conversation with her today.
"I have a gift for you, just a little something, but you have to come here soon to get it,” she said with urgency. Blair explained the cancer has almost taken all of her and it is only a matter of time. The gift she had for me needed to be given.
We set a time after I finish teaching violin and she asked that my husband and son come along for her special presentation of the unknown gift.
What should I expect? I was reminded of losing my father to cancer just two years ago. Wait. Exactly two years ago to the day. Tonight was happening for a reason and the symbolism was clearer than could be believed.
We arrived at her country home minutes after dusk. She looked exhausted, but still smiled like the Blair I've known. She was to the point and led us directly into the next room, not wasting any time tonight.
“I have two basses,” she said, pointing at the enormous instruments lying on their sides; huge objects you'd know were there even if they weren't pointed out. I almost laughed out of nervousness.
“I want to give one to you,” she said. “This one here. Come into the other room and I'll explain the conditions.”
Jaws dropped, we followed her and obediently sat beside her. My husband smiled, my son fidgeted and I wanted to cry. It was all too real.
Blair explained that the bass was now to be the property of the Shuswap Violin Society, a non-profit group that loans instruments to students in financial need and which I am Founding President. The news was wonderful as the group is in serious need of an upright bass, but I still could not find it in my heart to celebrate. Blair was dying and leaving her bass behind.
My husband stepped in, and, beaming ear to ear, thanked her for the amazingly generous gift. I nodded my approval and witnessed a glad transformation in her face. She was pleased, almost relieved, that her gift was received and appreciated. Blair went on to explain I had the responsibility, as its new guardian, to make sure the bass was played by people who knew what they were doing.
"They need to use the proper technique,” she said. "I know you're big on people playing well and that you'll make sure they take lessons and don't learn bad habits.” Blair trusted me to see that it was played well and I felt incredibly honoured to have that responsibility.
She explained the bow holds to an audience who already understood the concepts, but we went along for her enjoyment of it.
“There’s the German bow,” she held an imaginary bow in the air, “and the French.” Her tired hands would not cooperate as she tried to bend her fingers to illustrate. “I can’t do that anymore,” she said wearily and set her hands in her lap.
I felt tears well up inside. How sad to see a musician bid farewell to her instrument, the object of her attention and desire for thousands of hours, only to fall weak to sickness, and never play again. But yet she was not crying. She looked relieved.
Would I be so full of grace if I were giving away my dear violin and knowing I would never make music again? Would I be so detached?
Though she didn't know it,
Blair was helping me work
through my own pain. A pain I
felt two years ago when I took
This was her real gift to me.
Blair turned to my husband, an
electric bass guitarist in his music college
days, and said, "Play the
thing properly, not like those
bent over sideways bass guitar
players!" We all laughed and
shared a few musician stories
before she needed to rest. Blair
had not left us yet, she was just
having a rare opportunity to set
things right before it was her
Blair, we're thinking of you, dear, and will take good care of things when you do leave. Until then keep on making us smile with your jokes, your warmth and your inspiring generosity.