Sunday, July 12, 2020

Sounds of the symphony

Tonight I'm going to go back in time four years.

In 2016 I was diagnosed with cancer. This happened shortly before a required move to Pittsburgh, and so, during the time I was undergoing chemotherapy and in and out of the hospital we were also getting ready to leave Illinois and move to a new city. 

It was during the second week of the fourth cycle of chemo that I sat in the rickety rocking chair, in a new house that was too warm, trying to keep my food down, listening to the Pittsburgh Symphony. They were playing the Mahler Fifth Symphony. 

With Mahler, a symphony encompasses "the world" and it frequently takes up the entire concert program. It is an emotional and spiritual journey. During my time with cancer there had been many long nights with classical music. Sometimes having only the endless parade of the same hackneyed selections for company got really old. Other times, they spoke to me in a way they hadn't before and probably never will again. For example, You can hear the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony differently when you think you are dying. Music which is often the expression of the deepest parts of human beings can sound forth with supreme clarity when you really are ready to listen. Many times we save these profound utterances for the background.

On this evening, four years ago, I wasn't listening very well. I was just exhausted. The journey was nearly at an end, we hoped. A positive prognosis had ushered in a time of aggressive but helpful treatment for a rare but treatable form of the disease. But it was still the second week of a three week cycle, the week when every day is very long and very ugly and you can't tell if you are hungry or thirsty and you just hurt everywhere and there is no way to spend your time well because you can't concentrate on anything. Mahler in particular.

So tonight I will sit in the same chair and focus on what I can now focus on. Back then the applause at the end sounded like distorted sonic junk because my ears were unable to hear clearly. I wondered at the time whether my hearing was going to be affected permanently. It wasn't, mostly.

Tonight I will sit in a chair and listen to music. Maybe not with the same life and death intensity. Although when I think about it, what will be gone will mainly be the discomfort. The intensity is still there. The music still matters.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

At the interfaith vigil

This past week, my wife and I participated in an event in our community billed as an "interfaith vigil." You might have called it a protest, because basically we stood along the street and held up signs.

Every rally or protest or vigil I've ever been to has been somewhat different from the others. The atmosphere at this one was quietly joyful, which was a bit of a surprise, even though it took place at high noon on a Wednesday, which seems like an odd time for something called a "vigil" (usually I think of those as occurring at night and being associated with specific tragic events).

One doesn't usually worry too much about bad things happening on a Wednesday at noon, but there have been several reports lately of persons driving their cars into protestors and many others suggesting that people ought to do that, so I had a bit of anxiety going in as to what might happen. But it was all fine. The most peaceful event of the many peaceful events that have happened this year (most of what violence there is being at night).

This year has been traumatic for everybody, but we should all be aware by now that people of color can be especially traumatized even by the fact that suddenly white folks want to talk about race 24/7 in public after years of trying to ignore it. At this event, though, several persons of color drove by in their cars and trucks and smiled and waved and honked, apparently glad to see the mostly white participants holding up signs saying Black Lives Matter. For a moment it felt like that cozy world where everybody gets along and everyone is united by respect and love. Of course that world melts away once policy decisions have to be made and white people learn that just carrying signs isn't going to make all the badness go away. But it was still nice to experience it, briefly, if only for a respite, a recharge, and a vision of what utopia might look like if we ever go there. We won't, but, it was nice anyhow for an hour on a Wednesday.

Everybody was masked and socially distanced, six feet apart. There were little marks on the sidewalk for everybody to stand. Since we had a small group of folks from our church it meant we got to see each other in three dimensions after months of appearing only like small, flat images on each other's computers. 

That was nice, too.