Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: What am I really so afraid of?
One day earlier this year, while out on a walk, I made a kind of peace with my mortality. I can’t say that I do not fear death–although to be precise, what I actually fear is less death itself than confronting the knowledge that I am dying in my final moments of life. I have no idea whether I will even know, though. Will I rage against the dying of the light? Will I go to sleep one night and just never wake up? Will I slip into a comfortable haze of unconsciousness? Or will I gasp for breath, my body wracked with pain? That’s what the fear is. Death itself–just is. I lack the capacity to understand the higher workings of the universe, whether what I am will be wholly lost–although I suspect that whatever might lie beyond, it is likely not in a form I would recognize or comprehend.
I saw a GoFundMe fundraiser from a high school classmate of mine yesterday. I did not know him well in high school–not enough to call him more than acquaintance, although enough that had I ever encountered him in the past thirty-five years, I would have recognized his name and asked after him, and perhaps we would have shared reminiscences about that time our lives had briefly intersected. He had apparently become a beloved figure in the lacrosse scene in Wisconsin. And now he’s dying. I knew about the cancer a while ago through my class’s Facebook page. Medical bills have taken his house and his children’s college funds. And for a moment, I raged against the dying of the light–for him–and the fact that it shouldn’t have to be like this. He had the important things–love of family, respect of colleagues–and it sounds like he will leave a wonderful legacy, but he may well spend his last days worried that he has become nothing more than a monetary burden. And once again, I ached for the country of my birth, where good people are so easily broken upon the altar of profit.
Two years and one day now. I started this blog on the 19th of December back in 2018. On this day last year, I looked back on what I had done, and where I might plan to take things in the upcoming year, and said this:
I’d like to spend a little more time on researched rather than purely reactive pieces in the upcoming year, and I’ve already got a couple of those in mind–but they involve–horrors!–reading some books and articles. But I’m still absolutely open to what the universe tosses my way in terms of possibilities for writing and reflection.
And maybe this year I’ll finally write some poetry.
And then the universe said, in the immortal words of an Internet meme, “hold my beer.” Writing and reflection? Well, what else was there to do? For 100 days, starting March 14, I wrote every day. And I picked up that pace again in October. (I did finally write some poetry…)
This morning, I got up for what has become the 2020 replacement for live concerts–a livestreamed performance recorded in an empty hall. It took place at 8 am–2 pm Amsterdam time, since this was the Concertgebouworkest, performing the Bruckner 9th Symphony and–the reason I was there–the Shostakovich Violin Concerto no. 1, with soloist Sergei Dogadin, and Valery Gergiev conducting. Those of you who have been reading along in this tumultuous year will remember that I was supposed to see Gergiev conduct the Shostakovich Symphony no. 7 with the Chicago Symphony the weekend following the one that began the shutdown. Of course, knowing I had to get up at the usual time I get up on a work day meant my sleep schedule was thrown off, although I did manage to finally sleep by coming downstairs to the tiny couch in my craft room. And the Concertgebouworkest’s livestreaming system initially caught me off guard, as the link was a little hard to find and once there, there was nothing onscreen to indicate the concert would be starting soon. But start it did promptly at 8, with some introductory remarks (in English) from one of the orchestra’s bassists interviewing a couple of his colleagues. And then it was showtime. Dogadin is 32 and won the Tchaikovsky competition last year–so still fairly young. Gergiev has sprouted a beard–one I think makes him look better (reminding me slightly now of Maxim Shostakovich if he had a combover). It was an amazing performance in every way. The sound mix and the camera eye allowed me to hear things with a clarity I did not expect (and showed that Berlin is not the orchestra that can film a damned well-produced live concert.) But for me, the mark of a good Shostakovich Violin Concerto no. 1 is the third movement Passacaglia–if I suddenly realize that tears are streaming unbidden down my face. And…well, yeah. That. Dogadin also brought a bit more subtlety and less fire to the cadenza that some others have, but it did make the transition out of the passacaglia seem to grow naturally. It was worth the crappy night’s sleep. I see he has recorded the concerto with the Tartarstan National Symphony with Alexander Sladkovsky conducting — and I’ve heard some good things about Sladkovsky’s Shostakovich interpretations in general.
I did go ahead and listen to the Bruckner, if mainly to watch Gergiev conduct (I’ve not really ever warmed much to Bruckner), and that proved worthwhile. Gergiev did not really break a sweat during the concerto, although watching his expressive hands and the fact that he kept putting down the infamous toothpick baton was fun enough. He seemed to realize that getting dramatic would detract from the soloist. That was far less the case in the Bruckner, and by the end he was his usual sweaty, slightly disheveled self. I did quite like the middle movement of the symphony (they only played the three completed movements) and might look that up.
I also followed up on a comment from the Shostakovich Reddit sub about perhaps hearing echoes of the 5th Symphony in some of the soundtrack in the final episode of The Mandalorian. It had reminded me that I had this odd feeling during the particular section in question that it felt kind of Shostakovich-y, and upon viewing it again, now I know why. There are definitely parts that seem to quote (although I couldn’t tell you if the key is right) the opening bars of the 5th symphony. It felt to me like it must have felt to someone in Shostakovich’s audience who recognized quotations in some of his works. I am not completely sure there is a hidden meaning there, but I think there might be something in it.
In the afternoon I spent an hour attending a livestreamed Heather Dale concert. Back in ye olde ancient history days, her Christmas albums would have been on heavy listening rotation for my commutes to and from Toronto, but without commutes, I’ve not really listened to Christmas music this year–so it was nice to take an hour out of my day to do so. And then, the usual Sunday evening rollplaying, where we managed to destroy a couple more dragon pillars and leveled up. I suspect next week’s session will see us face some big nasties–we’ve already scouted out an area where they seem to be hanging about but opted to try to get leveled up this week before hitting them.
We’re now heading into what is normally a festive week. It won’t be without festivities, but perhaps different ones. Oh, how I I have learned now how to cherish friends and others we hold dear, to truly value health, and what community is possible of doing. The siege continues, even if we are told reinforcements are coming, those of us who can need to stay safe behind our walls, as much as we ache to reach out to others. The virus seems to be upping its game as well–there is news of a more infectuous variant now spreading in the UK, and rumours are spreading regarding a possible whole-province lockdown. This is going to be a difficult few months, made almost worse by the knowledge that the weapon we need to hopefully defeat this enemy is at hand–but that it will take time, with too many too eager to sally forth without proper armour or firepower. We know that up ahead of us, others are on the front lines; we know that any relief must be for them first.
But honestly, this hardship, as deep as the ache is for me, can be borne. Most of my friends are staying as safe as they can and are taking this battle seriously, and for that, I am glad–because I hope to see them all in person in the coming year again.. There will still be good food this week. We will still get the cats stoned on Christmas Eve, and watch our favourite movies. I will drive around the neighbourhood looking at lights and listening to “The Shepherd.” I will work on my sewing and embroidery projects–my dress form just arrived tonight, in fact. My home is full of wonderful things–books and projects, music–and the cats, and my favourite human being.