I am working on the posts that will wrap up the series taking us from the pain of aphasia to the aphasia of pain. In particular I am working on the next post in that series concerning one of my least favorite New Age nostrums: “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” Unfortunately one of my favorite Buddhist suttas tends to be read as support for this adage. This is the Salla Sutta, which I have previously mentioned in the post about the “vortex effect” (as Joan Didion would call it) that I experienced when I saw a picture of the destruction of the boardwalk at Spring Lake, NJ, after Hurricane Sandy. The lesson of this sutta is that I don’t have to stick arrows or darts of grief into myself. In fact, I should just pull them out if I’ve already stabbed myself.
In the first year after Laura’s death this sutta helped me to catch myself when I was jamming an arrow in. Gradually I could anticipate as I reached for an arrow and then could see more and more where the arrows lay. When it comes to music, I know that I am not ready to hear the opera Tosca again. It was the first and the last opera that Laura and I saw together. Nor am I able to listen to Robert Schumann’s “In a Foreign Land,” because this was the piece Laura played in the early days after her diagnosis, and then it was the last piece she ever played as the tumor cut into her eyesight.
While I was driving home last night, I picked Daniel Barenboim playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to listen to. It was on a section of the Beethoven PIano Sonata playlist that had a Barenboim album of the Moonlight, Appassionata, and Pathetique sonatas. I hadn’t heard them in a while. I guess because it was the day after Mother’s Day I remembered listening to my mother’s recordings of these pieces and how much she liked them.
For some reason after the first movement of the Moonlight, I didn’t recognize what was playing. At first I thought that I had really forgotten the second and third movements, but then I found myself caught up in a dynamic movement that had me bouncing to the music and waving my hands like a conductor (one at a time … I was driving). I remembered vaguely that the third movement of the Moonlight is very active. In fact, it’s Presto Agitato. Yet, this music was even more powerfully compelling.
Also, I had the strong feeling of Laura playing this music on the piano in our house in Griggstown. I knew it wasn’t part of the Moonlight, but I was too caught up in its dynamics to worry what it was until I got home. There I could see that my iPhone had switched to “shuffle” so that after the first movement I was no longer listening to the Moonlight. All that I could see on the iPhone playlist was that I had been listening to Alfred Brendel playing “Klaviersonaten Op 31:2 d-Moll III. Allegreto.” ???
When I got to my computer, I found that this was the third movement of Beethoven’s “Tempest” sonata. Of course! I remembered the time that Laura was playing a magnificent piece that I’d never heard before. I said, “What’s that?” And she told me it was the third movement of the Tempest Sonata. Brief vortex moment at that memory. But that’s all. Even without the happy memory of her playing and of that discovery, I can ride on the waves of energy of the music itself over and over. Listening to Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata, I feel that if anything is inevitable it’s joy as much as pain.
For those of you who may have forgotten how this piece sounds, here is link to a performance by Maurizio Pollini. (Apologies for the ad that will pop up first.)