Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you — the blind who once could see —
The bell tolls for thee…
–Rush, “Losing It.”
I don’t know if the world that I knew is dying. I know it is more likely transforming, but at this moment, all I can see are visions of the future, of falling leaves and bare branches, and preparations being made by some to hunker down while others pretend the calendar can just freeze in time, that the cycle can somehow stop. They know it cannot, but that does not stop the denial.
These late summer days are a reality and a sun-dappled illusion simultaneously. The days are still long and warm, the coolness of the nights signalling a predestined change. A summer storm may thunder through, its sudden outburst a comfort, flooding the senses with the music of deluge and the scent of petrichor. We sit on a porch, visiting with friends, as children chase the melody of ice cream. These are the sounds we know. They have emerged, persisted, convinced us of the permanence of our world. But they tell us a white lie, that all is well.
This has ever been the season of anticipation–the promise of a new school year, of new seasons of music, the gateway into the great festivals of the last part of the year, before the times of lean and fasting. This time last year, Montreal was precisely one month away, and Nashville about six weeks. Calendars had been planned out well into June. We had started to think of the next vacation.
My calendar now contains a single virtual concert in November. I will get to hear Shostakovich’s 8th string quartet performed in some simulacrum of live, and it will do for now because of course it will have to. And it is the Eighth, because of course it is. There really is no other work that better explains this hinge point in time, where I desire simultaneously an epitaph and a future. And I suspect it will be even more apt in November in the aftermath of the US election, where I am expecting the worst and hoping for the less-worse. (Don’t get me wrong–I like Joe Biden and I love Kamala Harris, but the Current Occupant will not go quietly.)
And at the moment, the only thing I am doing related to my central hobby of 30 years is to try to make sense of a dispute in my position as Lawspeaker. I knew this could happen when I took the position, but I never thought I’d have to act during a pandemic, trying to use, for the first time ever, a process that was really built to work around face-to-face contact. It’s hard. And not fun. It’s one thing to be able to resolve a conflict, another altogether to know that the problem might be beyond repair.
And so, I watch it die, and hear the bell toll.
And yet, I find joys, signs of what may carry me through, seeds that I might plant now. Exercising a somewhat-atrophied historical muscle on Reddit. Wandering into JSTOR (100 articles free per month until the end of the year!) Planning embroidery. Ordering the standard reference guide on everything ever written by Shostakovich because I envision doing a podcast or a YouTube series starting at Opus 1. Flashes of a future that yet could be within my grasp.
I am tired. My reserves are dangerously low, but each day I continue. The words do not want to flow. I want to sleep, perchance to dream of my own history. To find that thin thread to follow out of the labyrinth, not knowing for sure whether there is a minotaur and whether I’ve fought him yet or not or if I need to fight him. The metaphors are jumbled. The cat is out of the bag, or is it in the box, or is it dead? If I look at it, will it change? Or is she here on my lap, purring, reassuring, warm, looking up with trusting eyes?
That last is reality, and it gives me strength to face the daily unreality.