(This post is dedicated to dear friend Tom Wayman.)
Again Sunday, and the ascension of the voice in the exquisite Mozart Requiem. I was blessed with sleep– “the gift of the Gods”– and the morning sun melts the frost on car windows in our parking lot.
I am thinking about time and making something of it. A friend has written to me that we must write “…before we are face down in the tapioca,” in his spot-on, wry way of hitting the nail on the head.
I get a good visual on that one from my stint in a nursing home, where I became acclimated to an unspoken axiom: “That which goes down the gullet is likely to come right back up.” I think of little withered, crabby John in his wheelchair, how he would often toss his cookies without warning.
He would also on any given day, park in his doorway across from my room, and train his eyes on me like an angry sparrow.
One day he rolled over to me as I was preparing to leave my room and extended his leg and foot, where untied laces dangled from a faded brown shoe.
I braced his leg across my good leg and tied the laces into a double bow. He saluted me, and rolled away down the hall, toward the dining room, where he deployed his favorite game: to pick up the flatware at each place, rearranging all of it, with grimy fingers fresh from picking his nose. . The cook would come flying out of the kitchen, enraged.
He would scoot away, to the coffee bar, and looking at her out of the corner of his eye, pour himself a cup and keep pouring, so that coffee would splatter down on his pants and off the edges of his wheelchair to the floor.
Well aware that there was little sand left in the upper half of his hour glass, he was determined to amuse himself.
Face down in the tapioca. It is said that as he lay dying, Mozart whispered the last bars of the Requiem to his friend. Others say he didn’t quite finish it. Nevertheless, it is fabulous, with a driving, potent momentum evocative of God lashing cloud horses across the universe from a chariot of fire, on a mission.
Suddenly, face to face with my mortality via this exquisite singing, I feel transfigured, lifted out of myself and claimed by something my intellect can’t lay its hands on.
I have seen only recently, that I have wasted quite a bit of time in trying to make external things the source of my personal happiness and fulfillment. I wish this weren’t such a long list and that I could turn back the clock:
Put me in a man’s arms and suddenly he is my world. Put me in the Episcopal Church of my upbringing, and I make a structured spiritual life the source of fulfillment– until something goes awry, and for my own dignity and not secondarily, for the sake of my intellectual freedom, I must leave.
Scare me into Alcoholics Anonymous and into the identity of “recovering alcoholic”, beaten over the head with the “Big Book”, told that I will disappear into the bottle if I don’t surrender to a Higher Power. As this is really about accepting my role in a hierarchy in which those with the most “time” sober are barely mortal in a newcomer’s eyes, and I am told that I am powerless, that I can’t manage my life, that only God can save me, when it is apparent that we have the freedom to destroy or save ourselves, it feels unsafe to make the identity of “recovering alcoholic” the source of my security.
I know who got me out of a motel room when I was suicidal some years ago: it was me. Confronted with an option to die, or to face my own pain and keep on going, I chose life. I found that deep within, I was of sufficient value to myself and the universe to not cut my time short.
We lose both ourselves and time when we give the power to define who we are to ideas, social, religious and political constructs, causes, significant others, to the idea that we are helpless victims of everything and everyone, to some false identity such as “criminal” or “mental patient”. We can, in our human vulnerability, disempower ourselves and waste days, months, years.
On weekend nights I watch MSNBC “Lock-up”. I watch how some of those cope for whom Time has stopped. I see someone in for 35 years for armed robbery draw a ship to scale with a blunt pencil on a ragged piece of paper. I watch a murderer who has broken down in remorse on camera pull himself together enough to read aloud from a poem he has written: “The sun comes up over the hill like a pat of butter melting on cornbread.”
If a man who will die in prison can write that immortal image, if Mozart can write music on his death bed, — music that imparts joy and fulfillment to the listener– each of us can lay our hands on our gifts: write, weave paint, comfort a lonely confined person, tie an old man’s shoe, be fully, and in the being, live, which seems to be what Time is for….we are mortal, free, even with tapioca in the fridge. And even, perhaps, this music suggests, beloved beyond our comprehension.