Anne Mei drove most of the way back to Syracuse today. I took over in Waverly, PA just north of Scranton where we stopped for food. Up till then it had been so sunny I had to wear sunglasses. As we were coming into Binghamton, NY, the sky darkened ahead and soon we were in and out of snow showers most of the way to Cortland, where I’m staying tonight. More on that in a moment. From Cortland all the way into Syracuse it was sunglasses bright again. Cold and windy. Some snow on the ground. But none falling. As we entered the surface streets of central Syracuse, we could see that it had snowed 3-4 inches that morning. Many of the main arteries were slushy and getting up hills became dicey. We made it to Anne Mei’s dorm despite a stalled car and a snowplow on one of the steeper hills. Thankfully, the steep incline of Mt. Olympus Drive had been thoroughly plowed by the University.
As we started to unload the car, arctic winds blew my hat off but did help move her roller suitcase along. As we left her dorm to get supper at Modern Malt in Armory Square, the winds started to whip new snow into our faces. The wind and snow pummeled us on the one block walk from the parking garage on Fayette Street to Modern Malt. It was hard to fully enjoy the warm food as we watched the snow falling harder and harder. Snow persisted on our walk back to the car, but the wind had died down a bit. The streets of downtown Syracuse were now all layered with snow, ice and slush. The one municipal plow we saw did more to make navigating Adams Street complicated than it cleared away snow. Nevertheless, we made it back to Anne Mei’s dorm without any mishaps. After a quick goodbye, I set off for my hotel in Cortland because the snow fell more and more heavily on roads that had not been plowed recently.
When I brought Anne Mei up to move in at the beginning of the Fall Semester, I stayed the night in Cortland because all the hotels near the University were booked. Since Cortland is about 30 miles south of Syracuse, this gave me a head start the next morning to get on the road home. I thought I would do the same for this trip. Bad thinking. I did not reckon on driving 30 miles in blinding snow in the dark on a hilly highway caught between tractor trailers struggling up the inclines with their flashers on and their more foolhardy compatriots passing traffic to gain momentum on the next slope up. Almost worse were the stretches where either I had passed most of the traffic or most of the traffic had passed me and I drove into pitch black trying to see past the ice that kept building up on my windshield despite the defroster and the wipers going full speed. Fortunately the snow abated somewhat after about 15 miles. I could finally see lane markers and even something that looked like pavement. Of course, that also meant that the trucks speeded up even more to make up for lost time.
In my CaringBridge blog, I once described a terrible drive through torrential rains on I-95 to take Laura to the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. Reflecting back, I wondered how we made it despite the rain and the crazy drivers.
Perhaps it was the Little Flower (St. Theresa of Lisieux), who was recently recommended as a powerful intercessor. Or St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. Or the angel who watched over the Israelites wandering through the desert. Or Ganesha, who overcomes obstacles. Or Bhaisajeguru, the medicine Buddha.
I feel that way tonight.
Perhaps this time I could also still feel the presence of my co-pilot on that treacherous journey. Yesterday, Anne Mei and I went to another recital with her viola teacher Sarah Sutton. The program included the same works that were played for Laura at her last birthday party—Dvorak’s “American” Quartet and Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet. As often happens when I’m listening to classical music, I feel Laura’s spirit in the air. On Sunday I sensed her energy as the music filled Abington Presbyterian Church.
Since Laura’s death, the slow movement of the Dvorak Quartet usually dissolves me into a puddle of tears. Not this Sunday. In fact, both pieces were played with a joy that gave them new life for me. Sarah later said that the group had only been able to have two rehearsals for this performance. I don’t think having just two rehearsals hurt the music at all. In fact, these skilled musicians each with Gladwell’s ten thousand hours of practice under her belt could play from the heart without the self-critical consciousness that too much practice can sometimes cause.
The question of rehearsing reminded me of a passage from Yehuda Amichai, one of my favorite poets:
Life, I think, is a series of rehearsals
for the real show. In a rehearsal you can still
make changes, cut out a sentence. add a line of dialogue, switch
actors, directors, theaters—up until the real show.
Then there is no changing. And it makes no difference
that you can’t make a difference:
The show closes right after opening night.
I might differ with Amichai about “the real show,” as if there’s just one. Living means rehearsing for moments when “there is no changing” what’s been done, and starting the cycle over again and again. The show may close after opening night, but the show goes on.
Nietzsche talked about people who fret about what’s done and over. “All ‘it was’ is a fragment, a riddle, a dreadful accident …
Alas, every prisoner becomes a fool; and the imprisoned will redeems himself foolishly. That time does not run backwards, that is his wrath; ‘that which was’ is the name of the stone he cannot move.
In the context of Anne Mei’s recent winter holidays, this passage from Amichai describes how fretting over the past, and the future, works against us.
Between the eve of the holiday and the final day
the holiday itself gets squeezed, between
longing for the past and longing for the future
the spirit is ground up as if by two heavy grindstones,
upper and lower.
In his Natural Philosophy of Time, G.J. Whitrow argues that we learn about time through music and rhythm, not the other way around. Despite all the music of lamentation and hope, I would argue that the best music does not grind down our spirits with “longing for the past and longing for the future.” Rather, like Sunday’s recital, music energizes our spirits with the joy of learning that “it makes no difference that you can’t make a difference” once that note’s been played. I finally heard that light note in Dvorak’s “heavy” movement on Sunday, not despite the approach of the sixth anniversary of Laura’s death, but because of it. As well with the realization that it makes no difference to love that we can’t change when our loved one died, or was born.