I am sitting at the desk in my room. There is a single window to my left. I rise early every day and hear life outside, but Sundays are the most still through this window. Sunday mornings are just incredibly still. On mornings like this I like to pretend it is the apocalypse – like I am the last person living in New York City, and I must fend for myself.
I am thinking about loss. (What a topic for a Sunday at 7 am. Thanks, Brain.)
Loss happens because we are alive. Loss of love, life, jobs, money, hope; the ample arm of rejection…it is a cruelly long list. But at the root of loss is Fear. Loss is a stupid plastic bobble head waving its arms on the dashboard of your ego. Fear just keeps it gripped there, hard and tight. I’ve heard the emotions associated with fear are all linked to our ancestral survival instinct (and the unknown, of course) – we still think we can’t survive if we lose our tribe. We’ll be alone. We can’t sustain ourselves alone and wild beasts will hunt us down. Today our tribe is our friends or lovers. The beasts? Well, they’re far more numerous and complex than just a hungry animal – though that metaphor is a favorite. At this point, I don’t really need to say anything poetic about loss, really – it is already made up of poetry: the writers write about it and the singers sing about it.
Some lines people feed to those who lose life or love (but they can be the same though, can’t they?):
“You will see down the road that all this was for the best.”
“Nothing lasts forever.”
“They were really sick for a long time.”
“I’m so sorry. But, you know, I’m not surprised. I saw this coming.”
“They’re in a better place.”
“They aren’t feeling pain anymore.”
“You’ll find someone else. Someone better.”
“This happens to everyone.”
“[You are, she is, he is] free now.”
“[They aren’t, she isn’t, he isn’t] your person.”
“It gets easier.”
The list is enormous and varied. They mean well. Writing these out cheapens the sentiments, I know. But somehow, loss takes away any value all on its own.
Loss is varied, strange, and irreverent.
People think they know what you’ve lost so they know what to say to you when you’ve lost it. I don’t blame them. What can you say? But I think the pain associated with loss is more secret than that. I find it to be the case particularly as an artist: people love guessing what or who your work is about – particularly in reference to loss. They want to identify and find meaning. To know. To understand. I know! I do it, too. But there are secrets to loss. Buried so low – as if in a tomb. Rest assured: loss is private, secret, intimate. It is never exactly about what you think.
Loss brings a fever. You must sit through the fever.
I read an article once that you can actually take ibuprofen for heartache. I haven’t tried it. Your brain fires the same kind of information to your body for heartache that it does for physical pain.
Loss can be expected.
Loss can be absolutely unexpected.
Loss can be kind of expected but still process like a total surprise.
It is a sideswipe no matter how it comes to you – even if you think you were the most ready, nothing quite prepares you for loss.
There is no sure way out of the emotional residues of loss but through them.
That is my treatise on loss.
Now, this is a work-in-progress I started back in the spring but, really, a piece like this begins further back than that, I guess. I have always been fascinated by and drawn to religion generally as a study but particularly Judaism. (I grew up Mormon but have since exited. Aye, me: Humans and religion. It is sticky and viscous.) I can’t say why Judaism particularly has stood out to me all these years – maybe its ancient nature? I find so much about it really beautiful. My fascination with it has been there since I was very young, and it has stuck around. It has played its little theme in my life, weaving in and out. Encounters with it have needed their own life, so I present this smaller work-in-progress for your mind-ear.
I gifted this work-in-progress for a gentle birthday. This is what I said about it at the time:
This is a compositional work in progress in movements incorporating a scripture from Psalms and three Jewish prayers and words from them. As you know, I understand very little about them, but I looked for ones that spoke to me; ones that told me a story of how things are right now. They are not literal quotes as you will recognize them, but interpretations…
- Flee as a bird to your mountain, Psalms 11:1 (Theme)
- Tefilat HaDerech – rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to earth
- Shehecheyanu – who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.
- Anim Zemirot – I shall sing sweet songs (Theme)
About what you’re hearing:
Motif: Sonar pings – the use of sound transmission to navigate, communicate with, or find objects (most often in water). The searching.
1. Theme: “Flee as a bird to your mountain.” I love this. I love it. It carries with it the weight of a million meanings – the symbolism of a bird, a mountain – even the word flee. The word is not run or go. It’s very specific: flee, “to run away from a place or situation of danger.”
At the time when I started this piece, I just happened to be revisiting some old repertoire: Bloch’s Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hébraïque for Violoncello and Orchestra. I was a freshman in college when my teacher showed me this piece. I was hooked immediately. It’s a stunning and very difficult piece. I learned a bit of it and left it, so it haunts me a little (as does Ysaÿe’s Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 28), so I went back to it. There’s a tiny quote of it in the theme.
2. Move. Travel very far. So far that you will wear down skin on feet. There will be ghosts where you are going (brief return of the theme). It will be mysterious, vast, and maybe even uncomfortable for a long time. But not forever, and it will be alright.
3. Gratitude. When you have survived, what will you do? Tell the stories. There is an electric surge in this moment that is felt throughout because of where you have been. Then a detection of an underpinning that was once small that grew big and then small again until it became just a whisper. But it is still there. It is now a thing that makes up who you are until you are gone into the earth.
4. Finish. After all you can do and all you have done, what is left? This is it. We are as we began: “I shall sing sweet songs.” It is melancholy in nature, true, but have hope: our endings are not so often happy, but they are lived. They were loved. They are loved.
I recently read a funny thing in a cartoon about happiness:
“I am not a happy person…Instead, I’m busy, I’m interested, I’m fascinated.”
So, after all that, I will leave you with this thing I read in a book my friend lent me about co-dependency (yet another ample subject. Thanks, 7 am):
You are the greatest thing that will ever happen to you.
So, you see? Loss didn’t take that much from us after all.