Pachelbel’s Canon

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Is there a word or the fading of a noteas it leaves the string and nothing follows .-Their lives, like the last lifting of the bow,reach towards a silence that completes them.These aged, accomplished women taughtmusic, algebra, art, grammar, Latinto Catholic girls who came for polishto this school, now two lifetimes old.Tonight, the last concert before the doorsclose, they sit quietly on stacking chairsin the low-ceilinged auditorium,listening to choir after choir singingbrilliantly, voices added to memory. My daughter's school for one year, I know itonly by what I see this night, the photographsof long-skirted athletes smiling towardsa now-unfolded future and of girlsholding violins and cellos in sepia,tuning the long strings of the century.The heavy oak of stairs and railingsand the fortifying stone speak of someintended permanence that has had its day. How certain the enterprise of Irishfaith to bring a city of sailors to Godthrough its daughters, lift the reprobate townby their music, books, piety, beat downsin by corporal means, the correctiveleather to make virtue and a good accent.In time, something in them opened to the world,their grammars grew sensitive to plurals,odd conjugations, things outside the rule.The years softened discipline: the tyrantnun at twenty learned tolerance by sixtyin a world of back-answers and short skirts,too late, perhaps, to temper satiristsrecycling shtick through TV's middle age. Fifty or sixty years of the cloisterhave taught the nuns a quietness that holdsbefore the students, and there are no tears,but all their lives they loved in the workand now their loss is likewisegiven to the air in this evening's sense of thingsdone well to the last, apt valediction.For them, love was always a deferenceto the good, and tonight the orchestraof strings pours out Pachelbel's Canon,the achievement of these women's lives worked outby bows lightly drawn across instrumentsin the hands of girls who barely fathomwhat sorrow is in the perfect thing they makeor what trust in the silence that follows.

© Greene Richard