‘Can we review the future?’
What a question. How can you re-view something you can’t see in the first place? Oh, I know there are people who plan their lives around it and wallow in angst or triumph over what they think is coming, but most of us know that’s a waste of time. Being particularly sensitive about my future right now as I prepare for my husband’s death, I winced at the question asked by the young sound engineer who wanted to change my stereo system. He knew how important music is to me, and being somewhat unaware of the pending doom in my home, naïvely suggested it was time to get rid of my old system and upgrade to a more dependable one to assure my connection to music in every room in the future.
At first, his question seemed incredibly thoughtless under the circumstances of more vital concern to me, such as how I’ll live alone after 50 years of a marriage that began when I was 19, or how to deal with the top-heavy structure my husband built over our lives without concern for who would support it in his absence. But quickly I realized, knowing the kindness of this young sound technician, that his only thought had been for my connection to music. He knew me when…when my life was framed, enhanced and nurtured primarily by and with music. He didn’t know I’d become ‘unmusicked’, as one of neurologist Oliver Sack’s patients put it to him when her desperate case of physical and mental torpor was presented. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I’d turned to music in my recent battle-ready stance of hospital vigilance and home preparation for dying. The future, joy and peace, and any form of opening up to stimulus from the ‘outer world’ where normal people live has been completely off my mind and out of my life for quite a long time; how could my young friend, a musician himself, possibly have known?
It’s a bad thing to be ‘unmusicked’. It’s happened to me before at times of extreme emotional stress because of my effort to desensitize to pain and fear. Closing down doesn’t seem to be a choice at those times, and maybe it’s completely normal; a natural instinct to pull away from the flame when it’s too close. Unfortunately, when it’s emotional, it also shuts off access to the very lifelines we need most. My writing has suffered from my closure, although in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve begun to react to certain things I’ve seen and read lately, and stored new thoughts away for future use in my work. Like the nerves in a foot suffering from frostbite, the reawakening of feeling can be both painful and wonderful, agony yet reassuring at the same time.
And thus I was drawn to an essay written by Op-Ed columnist David Brooks in the NY Times just before Passover. It’s called, On Conquering Fear, and even though I was initially aware of it because of the author, I quickly noticed he was addressing two of my most pressing issues right now: the importance of both storytelling and music in the battle against fear. As I mentioned in my last blog post, C.S. Lewis wrote of how grieving feels like fear, literally, with the same painful constriction and plunging heart, so while fully acknowledging I hate that sensation, I was pulled inexorably to David Brook’s comments on how it turns those denying it into rigid, insensitive chunks of stone. He moves on to insist that storytelling ‘becomes central to conquering fear’, and that those who tell the stories give their reader/hearers the tools to make sense of their feelings.
On he moved from storytelling to music, using the example of Miriam in Exodus who burst into song to lead all the Israelites even in the face of all the ‘bitterness’ she’d experienced. ‘Song produces energy and spiritual generosity’, he assures us, and I knew right away I wanted both of those. That’s why we need to become “remusicked” if we’ve been “unmusicked” by pain and fear, and I can see between music and storytelling, I can start to let in the air again. That’s why I’m going to call the sound technician and tell him I want to review the future with him, and it’s also why I’m writing this blog post. I hope it strikes a recognizable chord for you, too.