When the orchestra gathers, trumpets tell tall tales.
Astringent oboes wake the sleepers.
Fairy flutes carry the story.
But it’s the humble, deep-chested cello that makes the world lean in.
In the Tabby’s Place symphony, we are rich in music. Brassy boys Nemo and Kozmo jostle for First Chair, while calm clarinets Agnes and Toulouse mellow the melody. The entirety of Suite A believes itself to be the greatest thing that ever happened to percussion.
But there has only ever been one cherry-wood croon with a hum to heal the frenzy, a baritone burble to break your heart and remind you why you have a heart.
There has only ever been one Tabby’s Place cello, only one Glenn.
When the orchestra gathers, the cello nestles behind the vigorous violins, brave enough to yield center stage. A gentleman of the wings, Glenn gleamed in the sidelines, happy to hold a tune like a candle, happier still to be held by the Great Song.
But if our gentlest cat laughed off the limelight, it’s because he knew his own voice. And soon, everyone at Tabby’s Place knew Glenn’s voice.
Thanks to a few bent strings — formally, a paralyzed larynx — Glenn’s music was restless and restful all at once. His rare condition left him humming continually, a buzz-like burble with no breath between stanzas. Some called it a groan, others a “feline white noise machine.”
But Glenn knew he was a cello.
And like that most sensitive of strings, Glenn lived to serve the larger melody.
In the orchestra pit of the Development Office, Glenn made his music, maple eyes meekly writing love lyrics every time I looked at him. Hummmm. Hummmm.
His rhythms rocked me on days that rocked my world. Hummm. Hummmmmm.
He seemed to gather volume as he gathered a sense of how much he was loved. At times, mere eye contact would send Glenn to a crescendo, collecting his strength and his song, rising to his feet for a rare but radiant solo.
When the orchestra gathers, the main objective is love.
With no pretense to rock-opera or a maestro’s baton, Glenn gave his all to his place under the lights, and under the desk. Leaning against human legs, warbling his worth and his wonder, he was as large as life itself.
Leaning into Glenn’s song, we were all stronger. Even the shiny horns and plucky kick drums who think they own strength.
Because when the orchestra gathers, strength is found not in volume or in virtuosity, but in gentleness. And the gentlest of gentlemen, the kindest of cellos, was the strongest musician at Tabby’s Place.
Glenn’s amber eyes and chamomile tones carried on through searing symphonies. The drums of diabetes marched. Arpeggios of arthritis scaled Glenn’s spine. His thyroid toyed with cowbells and glockenspiels.
Glenn’s glorious instrument needed daily tuning in the form of much medication, our staff sweetly singing over his strings. Grateful for all the attention, rhapsodic for food and water and blankets and blinks, Glenn repaid us hourly in music.
Where he learned his songs, we’ll never know. I shudder to recall that, pre-Tabby’s Place, Glenn was a traveling troubadour, his lonely madrigals splitting the nights outdoors. Clearly he had known harmony before. Clearly he had known loss, and confusion, and brokenness of body and heart.
Clearly he had never lost the melody.
And when he was found again, he raised his voice in hymns and psalms and symphonies all his own, never to stop.
Until the day the melody stopped.
Glenn had sung through so many sieges, I thought he’d be with us forever. He was never exactly “healthy,” but he was never anything other than happy.
And I have it on unimpeachable authority that music never lies and never dies.
But Glenn was growing weary, and his diseases were drumming. If we really loved him, we could carry him through the coda and on to the song beyond songs.
If we really believe everything he sang to us, we believe he’s carrying us still.
Glenn’s room is quiet now, the humming stilled. There is an empty seat in the cello section of our symphony, and his line on the staff is filled, at last, with rests.
But when the orchestra gathers, Glenn will be there.
He will hum, not with a broken larynx, but with an unbroken heart.
He is held, even today, by the Great Song. And so, in our grief, are we.
Until we meet again, cherished cello, thank you for the music.