Articles

Hitting Ground While Listening To Bach

I never thought Bach would sadden me. I have no doubt if I listened to a live performance of the Brandenburg Concertos, those would bring me to tears, simply because they are so heavenly, and that’s where I go when I listen to them… heaven on earth. 

But this morning, while listening to the Orchestral Suite #3 – Air On The G String – I was overcome by sadness, as I looked out my window.

There is a narrow midway dividing either side of the street I live on. I can see people throughout the day who have severe addiction health issues. Sometimes it’s terrifying to witness the extent of the toll addiction takes on the mind and the body. But the centers follow a specific protocol (as does the Police department) before they can intervene.

Once the center has closed, for example, Powell provides security 24hrs, but not because why you may think so. They are there to protect those who travel along the street, throughout the night, those whose behaviors show symptoms of distress. However, they cannot force those persons to go to the hospital, unless they have their consent. They cannot intervene unless the person is on the ground, immobilized. That’s when they can administer the medication they carry in their vests at all times. 

Once a police officer arrives at the scene, that officer determines whether the person is coherent by their answers to several specific questions. This assessment determines whether the person can be forcibly taken to the hospital. If their answers are coherent, even within a narrow window of time, five minutes, for example, then no further action can be taken.  

But one cannot ignore the irony and cruelty of others, the strangers who take their evening stroll, the mist they protect themselves with. They do not see what is happening around them. Those persons, the undesirable ones, have been cast with a special role in their minds. They are the invisible ones. And so they keep walking. Best to keep walking away from them.

Throughout the day, however, when the recovery center is active, if a person exhibits troubling symptoms, they can call an ambulance, but the person, however far away, barely coherent, must still consent to be taken to the hospital. That’s when the paramedics show up. There are exceptions, of course, like violence does not require consent. 

Persuasion is a skill based on patience and empathy and exercised jointly between Powell staff and paramedics. In all fairness, though, one cannot deny rare moments that cannot be ignored. There is sometimes a certain level of humor present. Within that mass of confusion and distorted thinking swirling in the air, so spontaneous and uninhibited, renders others unable to resist a smile.

Traffic is brisk throughout the day, from early morning until night. And there is never a dull moment on my street. When I hear sirens, I already know their destination. Someone is in distress next door.

But back to this morning.

Early this morning, I caught a glimpse of a man pacing back and forth who was wearing headphones. I have no idea what he was listening to, if anything.

But that’s not what captivated my attention. It was his posture, his body in motion, that I could not resist watching. His head was stooped and so were his shoulders and no matter how many times he paced his posture never changed. And I wondered if this was how he experienced life. And the tension between him and Bach connected in a way I had never imagined. 

Swimming

There is a place you must go, and though you cannot see where it is, you know it is, know the distance you must travel is vast and unknown, and there is no sun to serve you as a guide, nor any guarantee that you will make it there, and instead be condemned to dwell in the darkness of infinity, and while there, you ask yourself: “How much more must one endure? How long can one endure?” 

But these questions do not suffice, for you know the answer is obscured by the shadows of uncertainty, and so you grasp what you can, to guide you through the night, and hope you will return to see the sun again.

And so you turn to the memory of the notes that still exist within you, for darkness has no power over them, for these notes reside far above the clouds, above the sky, above the heavens, where the shadows of light are bred and born and transformed, from the greater darkness within the universe, which we will never reach or fully know, but still know it well, for those notes, though born in darkness, are overcome by the power of light that breaks apart from the darkness from which they were issued, and sheds.

And with this light, you know darkness will never win the war, for light is far greater than the birth of night, and so you arm yourself with those notes as your guide – The Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G, which stirs in you the will to live and swim towards the light.   

 

The Wakeup Call

OPTIMISTS

 

The fundamental nature of the optimist is, as is for all humans, a complex equation. We are all programmed to behave in a certain way. But how we respond is significantly affected by our engagement with our environments. That cycle helps establish patterns which thoroughly affect and, more often, than not, eventually predict our responses. And though the fundamental equation is fixed, it incorporates a vital and necessary element —  it breathes. And each breathe contains the element of the unknown, the unpredictable. Why? Because we are human. And though the equation is fixed, and thereby secure, and is never fully eradicated, it shifts, moves, evolves, develops  — just as humans do — and is often irrevocably altered. Perhaps.

It may be that the code for an optimist is embedded in their DNA, indeed, probably is — as all other traits — and emerges at the moment of birth. It also may be that part of the code for the optimism also contains the opposite trait — cynicism. But it is highly unlikely that either of those traits —  as with so many others — are expressed the moment the infant travels through the birth canal and takes its first breath. And yet, there it is already activated at birth. 

The needs of infants are simple: they require nurturing, nourishment, touch and love. How those needs are fulfilled influence and determine one of the most vital characteristics of all humans — bonding. And that effect is immediate, though not immediately expressed. Instead, it lies dormant, until it’s ready to manifest itself, which is not long afterwards. But it is highly unlikely that infants exhibit cynicism as soon as they emerge from the birth canal and take their first breath — not just cynicism but optimism — and all of the traits encoded and embedded in their DNA. 

And yet the evolution from optimism to cynicism is as natural as the air we breathe. And though the seed does not perish, once you’ve reached that threshold, crossed it, moved beyond it, you must often regress before you can reach and find the seed, the source. And so, you return to the labyrinth of many doors, without knowing which door is the right one, the one that fits the key you carry. 

It’s not the imperfection of humans that is so troubling, for the optimist accepts the premise that humans are inherently flawed. Rather it is the extent of those flaws, their expression, their dimension, their depth, their width, that overwhelms the optimist. It is the noose around the neck that keeps squeezing until it’s almost unbearable, but not quite enough — hopefully — and once that noose loosens and expands, before balanced is restored, the cynic plunges, and hits the floor, dazed and weak, but still breathing, and gradually regains the strength to stand upright and start the cycle all over again.

 

The Floor Above

I could not say what floor it was —
because I did not know
what floor I lived on —
only that it was the floor above
where silence seemed to dwell —
unless it was because I could not hear
what was there
because of the noise of others
who lived with me.

It did not have a pretty or a friendly face —
instead the faces where I lived
were filled with images of things
I feared —
and a television against a wall —
the chatter of petty minds and petty faces 
the constant hum and drum behind the wall —
which I ignored —
for it was nothing more than noise to me.

But it had a telephone —
which reached another world —
the world of those I loved —
those no longer here
but whose messages I could hear.
They were both beautiful and tragic
and reminded me of the life they lived.
Love erased in a single moment
haunted eternally by the voice of those they loved —
recorded on a telephone.

They pretended to be happy
their voices filled with enthusiasm 
hopeful the ancient ones they had loved 
would reappear
found and loved again 
but not without a hint of uncertainty —
that kind of hope. 
Nonetheless it was persuasive 
and so, I plastered them to my body —
like a shield —
and traversed
the landscape of what I feared.