My godmother was not a talkative woman. She wasn’t even my godmother, really; she was the wife of my godfather. But following his sudden death, she took over everything he used to do. His relatives, his office at home, his obligations. I was part of what she’d inherited. She had never been one for feigning all that much interest in small talk with those around her. She’d at most nod, or sometimes laugh—that was as sociable as she was willing to be. My godmother preferred music to words.

Her apartment contained few books—but there were lots of records, cassettes, and a piano. Whenever I visited her, she sat there and played. And she’d always point to the place next to her on the piano bench and show me when I had to press which keys … and then we’d play together, even though I didn’t know the first thing about playing the piano. It sounded nice even so. She had no ambitions for the godchild she’d inherited. She didn’t give me any expensive gifts, clothing, perfume … things like that weren’t important to her. Instead, she bought me two subscriptions: one for the concert hall of the small town where we lived, and one for the town theatre.

Twice a month, she’d pick me up in the evening—even during the week, even if I had a test the next day—and we’d go together to the concert or to the opera. We saw La Bohème by Puccini, and we listened to Bach’s cantatas, Schubert’s songs, Mahler’s 5th. In the intermissions, we’d drink sparkling wine and orange juice, even though I was too young for that—and she’d veritably blossom. The way she talked about Bach, Schubert, and Puccini then … it got me excited and completely won me over to their works.

And that was something more important, I thought back then, than good grades, tests, and whether the others in the schoolyard liked me or ignored me: a fantastical world that she’d let me into, one that belonged to me alone. My godmother passed away a long time ago. But whenever I’m sitting at the opera, or even when I listen to records at home, I’m grateful to her for opening the door. To a life beyond words.

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