A Symphony

Yesterday, I attended the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Chopin’s Second Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. First, I must touch upon a truly virtuosic performance in Chopin. Yuliana Avdeeva, first prize winner of the Chopin International in 2010, more than showcased her mastery of Chopin. I had box seats directly behind where she was playing and so had a full view of her hands. She glided jointlessly between frenetic energy and graceful swaths of gossamer. I have never seen such finesse regarding Chopin, caressing the emotions endowed into his scores while also taming the fury of the technical grand jetés and grand pliés. Simply put, she is the best pianist I have ever seen and heard. All the more, I look forward to seeing Ms. Argerich perform live next March.

With all that, you would think Rachmaninoff was overshadowed. It was, however, a piece that struck me at the most right of times, when the notes could seep through my skin and rupture the veins. The notes matched a progression of events in my life, placed me on the shoulders of the fourth movement to carry me into the next stage.

The piece begins ominous and baleful with a fullness of what is best described with the lovely, Russian untranslatable, toska. For the unfamiliar, the word carries a width and breadth of meanings, all of them culminating in a deep, spiritual anguish. There is a disquietude in this anguish, a sprout of unrest growing in the shadow of a gravestone. For me, it was the loss of a… friendship? No, that doesn’t sound right, but I’m unsure of what else to call it. In any case, the toska resonated with what I had just been through regarding the loss.

Rachmaninoff then moves into the second movement which explodes with optimism and hope. Gone is the pain and brooding of the past. Somehow, following my loss, I felt invigorated, renewed. Maybe it was the adrenaline or the words spoken, but I felt stronger than I had in a long time.

Strength gained in such a way does not, however, last very long. In the third movement, a beautiful and romantic and, above all, wistful melody takes over the strings. It is sweet and melancholy without drooping into bitterness. It was in this state that I found myself at this time. I miss her, miss the person she is, miss our conversations. Tears frosted my eyes and I fought furiously to swipe them away as Rachmaninoff’s strings caused my reminiscing to deepen. And yet, I too feel no bitterness. That hurt has faded into fond memories, softened by time and rain.

Here is where Rachmaninoff, whom I already had great respect for, wrenches my spirit from the gutter of sorrow into the resolve of God. The fourth movement begins with a hearty chortle of strings before dissolving into quiet will. Here, Rachmaninoff share a moment of faith. Faith that God is not bereft of the promised hope. Hope that God has deigned to separate the future from the past, and that the future can mend what the past has rent. This faith and hope bursts into certitude in how best to move forward, and that, no matter the outcome, what is to come will be worth living for. My faith was unshaken from the ache and sorrow that ensued, but my heart was crushed. In the midst of it, it lingered in that blackened morass we call grief. From the confident resolution of the finale, Rachmaninoff exhorted me in a musical-notation equivalent to Galatians 6:9. I will not grow weary of doing good.

So it was that I left the symphony, stronger and enriched. So too was it that Ms. Avdeeva’s beautiful performance could not top a tale of my own recent past and subsequent future. Regardless even of my soul’s reverberations with the score, it was exceedingly beautiful. It blows my mind that so much of Rachmaninoff’s music was held with disdain by his contemporaries, even the great Stravinsky. Just the same, I see the corollary in my own life. Why should I care what others say of me? I know who I am. I know what I do. My heart is sure, supported by my faith in Christ and the spirit He gave me. Now, to wait and hope.


Matters of the heart

Today, I went on my first hike in over 6 months since getting Lyme disease. While all too often it is temporary, I feel pretty well. Physically anyway.

I make the distinction because someone dear to me and I parted on not so happy terms yesterday. In particular, it would seem some kindnesses I offered were misconstrued for having ulterior motives. I can’t even be angry about the doubt. Many times have I been hurt and because of that I question other people’s motives all the time.

In reality, only I know that I acted out of compassion rather than selfishness or expectation. I check my motives before everything I do, lest I be a hypocrite, though we all end up being one at some time. Even more, when questioned, I search through every bit of my being to ensure that if spiritual weeds have appeared that I may remove them, destroy them. And I have been plumbing my soul since the moment of challenge.

What I have found through the years is that such secondary searches rarely bare fruit. Since becoming a Christian, my heart condemns any misguided actions quickly, and I find that I am unable to argue against it. Right now, my heart feels clear. Not even the slightest weed breaking the surface of the soil.

It is strange to say that I have a peace about it. But I do. Though only insomuch as I know that I did no wrong. Not that it matters. The person is gone. Not coming back. And that gives me no peace, nor does the thought that someone dear to me thought I acted in my own interest rather than theirs.


Perspective is perhaps the greatest problem I see in most writers these days. That is a bit misleading because it isn’t the perspective of their writing that is at fault; no, rather, it is that so many writers suffer from the generational curse of being self-focused — not necessarily self-centered though it does seem to often follow. They simply don’t know how to look outside themselves anymore.

To this end, there seems to be a plethora of writing bereft of circumambient detail. What I mean is that too often modern writers cannot wear the bark of the tree nor the green of its leaves. They cannot imagine themselves as anything other than themselves.

A tree is just a tree. A forest is just a number of them. A park is just an encircling of forest.

Writers cannot see only what is. They must see what can be. What cannot be.

The tree is suddenly a bolt of lightning that erupted from the ground skyward and was petrified. The forest is a gathering of giants, plotting an attack on the last bastion of mankind. The park is home to a rare breed of turtle whose shells have evolved to look like trees to camouflage them from predators, and, due to this, the forest is viewed as being magical because the trails are ever changing.

None of that is good writing per se. I guess what ends up in short supply when perspective is lacking are ideas. Ideas are the cornerstones to writing and, without them, it doesn’t matter how lovely the words are, how grammatically correct it is, how innovative the style. It just turns out boring.

An old adage says to write what you know. And, to some extent, all writers do. But it is in twisting the world, seeing it in ways unreal, and finding our imagination in what we do know that writers find magic.

Writers are not so much artists to me. Writers are sorcerers and sorceresses who take the elements of the world that everyone knows and transmute them into enchantments and incantations, cast illusions over the eyes of the reader so that they may see the world as the writer sees it. If the world looks no different than the illusion, is it a spell worth casting?

Poemetry: Ontology of Eternity

Across the worlds, across all time,

 in ancient age or modern clime,

rip the hours and seconds rend

and force the Clock’s lockstepping to end.

Break the hourglass, spill the sands,

 stir with mine a desert of thoughts:

grains unseen purl with the Distant Strand

and each knit the infinite wrought.

Aeons are within our minds,

infinitude within our hearts,

and jointly bound and shared entwine

Eternity within love’s art.


Being unneeded sounds rather terrible. To some, it probably is terrible. There is, however, freedom in it for someone like me.

Anyone who has read my blog, or actually knows me, knows well how often I rail against the differences between being wanted and being needed. Necessity is not a pretty thing. Utilitarianism is an ugly life philosophy. Truthfully, in the absence of being wanted, I would rather be alone than be needed by many.

But to be wanted… Oh, there is nothing greater in the entire world.

For someone to prefer you to not you, to know that they are fine without you but consider themselves better with you, that, that, is the loveliest thing in the world. It is a strange thought, but it is born out of Christ’s love for us. Jesus does not need anyone, or anything for that matter. We cannot do a thing to make His life better, to make Him more perfect, and yet He loves us, died for us.

His sacrifice for us is poignant for precisely this point. Consider if Jesus had to die for us instead. No option. No free will. Something to gain.

The cross loses its wonder and mystery and complexity. As to now, we are left befuddled and muted by the shock of God becoming a man and dying for us for no reason other than that we needed it. In that sense, mankind is unneeded. But not unwanted. And the lack of need in the presence of such desire, and sacrifice, is what renders us speechless and dumb.

Reflections in the fire

What is it that makes man so pensive, so reflective, when sitting before a fire? Is it that the  cracking and popping of the wood mirrors our souls as they face heat such that they expel superfluous elements amidst the flames? Is it the smoke that we are conditioned to see as a warning, and, yet, in this instance, the smoke is no harbinger of trouble; does it make us question what we know to be ‘fact’, what we assume to be fact? Or perhaps, and most likely in my opinion, do the roiling embers remind us of the roiling of our souls, of the undulations of emotion and thought that burn within us but no longer bear flame?

Whatever the case, tonight I had a bonfire. It has been quite a while since I had one, but it is something I love. Among the firelight, there gathered a symphony of crickets, the scratchy rustle of unseen things, and the pinpricks of stars.

Perhaps most of all, I find God in the floating embers. Something about it stops me, stills the turmoil about me, builds a sanctuary in the mire of darkness. Even then, though the turmoil dissipated, I couldn’t get someone off my mind.

And I just said goodbye to her.

How? How is it that I am giving up so easily? Has it been that life has taught me to just walk away when things seem impossible? To trust logic over love, platonic love, but love just the same? That seems to be the case. Now, my heart stands in judgement of my mind, condemns it, calls it ‘monster’ and ‘imbecile’ and ‘coward’. And that is what I am.

Is she worth fighting the impossible for? I say all the time that we can only reach to the limits we accept, but, in practice, I use the word ‘impossible’. My mind calls it ‘realistic’, my heart calls it ‘cowardice’. Sadly, both are right.

Truth has this terrible, dualistic nature wherein both sides are true. To not be a coward, I must be an idealistic fool. To be a realist, I must capitulate to reality before me, subjugated and fettered by what seems to be true.

Always there comes more questions. What should I do? Just keep walking away? Would she really even miss me? She has needed me and now does not. She never wanted me. I’m a human consolation prize. Who knows.

Dragons are best left sleeping…