I feel them behind me, beside me: the girl I only dated once and who died young; the cousin I promised to marry when we were still in third grade; the older brother who could play by ear. Like those Homeric shades crowding round the blood sacrifice. So close.

It’s certainly not my skills at the keyboard that draws them. It’s the music, come alive from its long sleep on cold paper. Chopin and Tchaikovsky, Field and Brahms, it lives again through me and though me in these dead.

Is it a portal for them, a way back to this world where music is even more intense life than life itself? I don’t believe in ghosts or shades, and yet here they come gathering round me, gathering into me, memories as real as my own self and the sweet wrenching sounds my fingers call forth: the girl I only knew for a few hours, the brother of seven decades, the cousin I would some day marry after getting the necessary ecclesiastical dispensation.

When I stop playing they leave. I can only bear their presence for a few minutes in any case. Our worlds are too alien to risk encroaching on each other’s very long. But they will be back, insistent, not to be denied. And I must share with them again. I dare not do so, or question their right to be there.

Where are the others? I wonder. So many dead, and only one of these three was to my knowledge a music lover. But that’s none of my business. They have their reasons. I would deny them not only to my peril but to my great shame. If I can ease their pain for just these few moments, I have no choice.


5 Comments to “”

  1. Yes, yes, yes, Tom. It is the same for me. And it’s music that takes me into that world beyond. I would have said it is beyond explaining, but you do describe it in a way I recognize. Thank you for sharing. Terry

  2. What a gem!!

  3. I can’t explain it either–maybe Oliver Sacks has, but I’m only part way through Musicophilia; nevertheless, I couldn’t let this piece go without saying something in honor of its compelling, haunting, beauty. I don’t play an instrument, or even play music much anymore, but I still resonate with what you describe; it reminds me of my favorite William James quote about art as an “irrational doorway” through which “the wildness and the pang of life” steal into our hearts. Maybe your playing is a portal for those three you loved, but also maybe age–like art–opens a portal for us, a doorway through which we gather into ourselves a different kind of awareness than youth required. I say that because I know we’re both winter chickens, and because your post just felt like some of the moments I’ve encountered that are hard to explain to life’s relative newcomers, still cavorting on the playground.

  4. So nice to hear from you, Barbara. Thanks very much for your thoughts. I wonder if you wouldn’t find this piece of mine interesting, in light of your own astute observations about getting older: http://www.eclectica.org/v15n4/hubschman_salon.html

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