Little Strummer Girl

It wasn’t how she strummed, or the way she serenaded herself to the delight of her audience. It wasn’t even her elegance weaving its way through every movement. It was simply that she strummed. That she was getting wonderfully lost in something, and invited us into the whimsy of where this all might go. That there was something around the next corner she couldn’t put into words. All she could do was lead us there, but only if we matched her measure of courage.

It wasn’t that she strummed flawlessly, either. Or how she brushed what was left of her auburn locks from her eyes the way she always did. It was that she could perform without faking it. She had always been too sincere to fake anything, and too genuine to be shy.

The lighting shimmied in the gloss of the instrument’s finish, and the twinkly eyes I loved danced with even more liveliness. Without hesitating, she immersed herself into the beauty of the moment so we could find the same bravery to dive in after her.

Her one string was just a little flat. The acoustics weren’t ideal. Somehow it made it more charming. My own little star.

This wasn’t what she asked for. It was all she had to work with. A piano was too expensive and too large, though we would’ve given anything to meet the request. Still, somehow she understood. Disappointment never crossed her face that Christmas morning.

And when she walked in New Year’s Eve to announce her new song, we knew it was an invitation into her world — into those two or three steps beyond curiosity only 10 year olds have enough courage to see.

In that sad dining area, those extra square feet of living room in a thin 2 bedroom apartment, the 5 of us listened. Her eyes closed as she started to sing — the same way she’d done a hundred times since unwrapping her secondhand guitar 6 days ago. We followed suit and our eyelids fell.

She’d been teaching us that sometimes the things we seek most are only visible when we close our eyes. Unknowingly, she was preparing us for when we wouldn’t see her any other way.

As she strummed my mind took a turn my feeble emotions didn’t understand. In a strange way it was a relief the world would never have enough time to steal any generosity from her soul. The one part she had left that couldn’t get sick.

The “experts” couldn’t give me a clear answer on how much longer she had. I just knew it would never be long enough. But for now, in that sad dining area, Lila was still radiant as she peeked at us around her oversized, secondhand guitar. She was our Little Strummer Girl giving all she had to Little Drummer Boy — her new song on her old guitar.

Christmas Eve. I watch over and over again. More times than I should. I can’t believe this stupid VCR still works. Turning 60 makes me wonder if I’ve lived with the grief of a hundred old men. But mostly I wonder, and I plead with God, Lila knew that month of missed bedtimes before Christmas was for a secondhand guitar. For that last Christmas gift I knew I would give her.