One of the most fascinating gifts of the human brain is Memory. On my Advent countdown, this is something to open with caution. “When faced with his past, the strongest man cries.” (from a Dan Fogelberg song) “Memory is like the sweetest pain…” (from a James Taylor song) The question I must ask myself when I am drawn to memory is, “Is this useful?” I could get sucked into the morose for hours, wallowing in widowhood, motherhood, womanhood, childhood. What would I learn? If it brings appreciation or perspective, very well. If it gets me ‘stuck’, then it’s not so good. Here’s my post from two years ago:
Ever had a piece of music bring up a memory, a time and place from the past, with such clarity that you felt you were actually there? Last night it happened. I came home from my Memoirs class, having read my essay aloud with such a rush of nervous adrenaline that my heart was still pounding. I decided to have a glass of Chardonnay and listen to some of Steve’s recently acquired CDs with him. So, I was relaxing and in “memory mode” when he put on a CD of the Tallis Scholars singing a mass by John Taverner, written around the turn of the century – the 16th century. Oh, the flood of my heart!
I was 20 years old. Jim and I had become engaged on my birthday over the summer. I went back down to So. Cal. to school, to continue with my bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance. Jim and my mother were in a Bay Area singing group together, called Renascense (or some archaic spelling pronounced ren-NAY-sense). I came home for Christmas and was invited to one of their concerts. I close my eyes and picture them: Jim in his black tuxedo, ginger mustache, the smatterings of a beard he’s grown for Rigoletto. He is 22, teddy bear-like with twinkling blue eyes, blonde hair and a killer Italian grin. But while he’s singing, he is an angel, mouth perfectly forming straight vowels, eyebrows imploring heaven. He is a tenor. His voice melts butter. My mother is dressed in a mail order catalog nightgown, polyester, rust-colored, that has been trimmed with gold & black cord around the waist and across her bosom in an X. Only women who have sung in choirs can imagine how absolutely ludicrous these outfits can be. No woman looks good in a choir uniform, let alone one that has been made to look “period” on the cheap. It is ridiculously embarrassing, but I forgive her. She sings alto in a hooty voice that blends well. Her quality is not stellar, but her musicianship is indispensable.
I have been so homesick away from school. I have been staring at my diamond ring, counting the days until break. I sit in the concert hall and look at these two people whom I love more than any others on the face of the earth, and I am so proud of them. I’m proud of their dedication to music and their fond relationship to each other. I admire them completely, and I am jealous. I want to be with them; I want to be them. I want to feel the music in my breast float to the clerestory of the church and entwine in that beautiful polyphony. I ache for this memory. And then the tenor line soars above the rest, and it is Jim himself, singing to me. The recording is perfection. I can tell that it isn’t Jim, but there are moments when it definitely could be. My will takes over and I make it him, in my mind. I am there, in that sanctuary, and Jim is singing to me, alive, young, vibrant with love and mystery and warmth.
Jim before his Carnegie performance – 2002
Music folds time in patterns that defy chronology. I sail far away on its transcendent waves. It is a grace to travel toward those we love without limits.