Ode to Joy and Sadness

Beethoven’s father was an alcoholic who made Beethoven play piano standing up at all hours and beat him—even when Beethoven was a small child—if he made an error. As a teen, Beethoven had to support himself because his dad couldn’t hold a job yet Beethoven was continuously shamed by his dad for not being a material success like Mozart. By 26, he was losing his hearing; tried to keep news of the problem secret from those closest to him—avoiding social occasions—fearing for his career. Beethoven would complete his last symphonies by writing using lower notes he could more clearly hear, composing via pencil held in his mouth which touched the surface of the keys allowing him to feel the vibration. By about age 44, he was completely deaf.

A few months ago, I was walking through Costco trying not to weep while listening to his 9th Symphony. As the strings wound their way somberly through the canon of humanity and the winds argued, I’d pause the music when I became too overcome then eventually resume, letting it pierce my grief and our tragedy and any and all sense of Time. Schiller’s poem—Beethoven had a lifelong obsession with it—set inside a symphony that is now the official anthem of Europe, celebrates the mysterious Other that each of us at some point finds has always been inside us. Having been Unable to conceal his deafness from the public anymore, he insisted on being the conductor for the premiere of Ode to Joy. The orchestra hired another conductor to stand next to him and quietly told the players to follow the guest conductor rather than Beethoven. At the end of that premiere, the audience rose and celebrated their love of it with enthusiastic applause which, legend has it, Beethoven couldn’t hear so the contralto approached and turned him around to face them.

In accepting the paradoxes of the Beethovens, we are confronted with the deepest meaning of this life. Things were dark for him; was his dad beating him as a young child sad? Yes. But the paradox is that all is true—we are both stuck AND we are free—because a point in time is merely one drop in an ocean. We believe that one point to be complete and solitary only because we can’t really view the entire ocean. Beethoven’s life was magical, beautiful; Making 53 year old women weep in joy and unity amid epiphanies of why anything has ever happened, both wonderful and tragic.

And that he set this poem to music—was obsessed to do so— to tell us that our life is magical too IS that very poem. He was the unity and the joy, he was the brother obsessed with laying down arms and spreading his kiss to all the world. He was the strings, he was the winds, playing us The good news that we are the anchor point of all alchemy, and we are the witness of the deep whispers inside that hear songs about heaven long before we’ve even written them.

The poem “Ode to Joy” by Claude Schiller

Joy, beautiful spark of Divinity

Daughter of Elysium,

We enter, drunk with fire,

Heavenly one, thy sanctuary!

Thy magic binds again

What custom strictly divided;*

All people become brothers,*

Where thy gentle wing abides.

Whoever has succeeded in the great attempt,

To be a friend’s friend,

Whoever has won a lovely woman,

Add his to the jubilation!

Yes, and also whoever has just one soul

To call his own in this world!

And he who never managed it should slink

Weeping from this union!

All creatures drink of joy

At nature’s breasts.

All the Just, all the Evil

Follow her trail of roses.

Kisses she gave us and grapevines,

A friend, proven in death.

Ecstasy was given to the worm

And the cherub stands before God.

Gladly, as His suns fly

through the heavens’ grand plan

Go on, brothers, your way,

Joyful, like a hero to victory.

Be embraced, Millions!

This kiss to all the world!

Brothers, above the starry canopy

There must dwell a loving Father.

Are you collapsing, millions?

Do you sense the creator, world?

Seek him above the starry canopy!

Above stars must He dwell

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https://youtu.be/rOjHhS5MtvA

Finale here starts at 52:14

Some tears for the Ocean

I’ve never cried so hard as that day in 2007 when James drove his moving truck down the street.

He was moving from Utah to live with his office assistant/girlfriend and her son 2000 miles away just a few weeks after we’d told the girls we were divorcing.  A divorce which blindsided the girls and I; I didn’t even get a lawyer.  James and Sarah probably began their relationship during summer 2006 when we dug out our basement and I unknowingly insisted he stay with Sarah and her husband Ryan in Blacksburg, Virginia (location of the main office) rather than come home to the unpleasantness of our Utah bungalow.  “Just stay with Sarah and Ryan; its so gross here.”  Naturally, he didn’t reveal she and Ryan had separated.

But on that day he moved, James’ dad was here from Virginia, trying to right the error of James moving.  I said right there in front of Bob, “James, don’t move out there to her and come visit your girls; stay here and go visit her.”   I needed him here and so did the girls.   But he wasn’t listening, didn’t want to; Bob and I talking to him was like trying to reason with a sinking ship.

That very day, Livy lost her first tooth in a bowl of popcorn.   It landed in the large steel bowl then sunk to the bottom and Grandpa Bob and the girls and I searched for it but hanging out down there like a groupie with the whitish crumbs of popcorn, we could barely tell the difference between food and tooth.  But we finally did, celebrating then the victory of finding a lost treasure, in one of those moments that stands there like a trophy.  A stop-action moment More than the sum of its individual parts.

And when he and Grandpa drove off in James’ UHaul, I wasn’t ready.  I didn’t want to see what was going to happen.  Wanted to cover my eyes like in a scary movie, so that my brain didn’t invite in through my eyes what I didn’t want to become part of me.  Both girls chased the truck down the street.  Down Garfield Avenue, where they’d grown up.  Where we’d gotten our first puppy.  Where Livy’d come Home from the hospital, where they’d played with the neighbor kids, and started school.  Where they’d donned costumes in the cold of Utah Autumn to go get the big candy bars from Chuck and Dave’s house next door; where they’d bathed in the safety of familial surety.  And James noticed them running, and slowed his truck and pulled over at the end of our street—next to the orange house he’d eventually move into after the break up with Sarah—and got out of the drivers side to walk around the back of the truck to where Julia and Livy waited like angels on the sidewalk.

And as I was watching this play out from the slight distance of looking outside of myself and my children, there was this moment like at the end of a movie.   Where written into the story is a single epiphanic scene that makes everything pivot to where suddenly something in a character clicks.  To where inside James something about his tender dad looking for Livys tooth has shifted him to the core of his being and he “UNDERSTANDS” and gets out of the truck to hug his girls and decides he doesn’t want to ever stop.   

I’m watching this scene of my own family from my own porch, knowing that the arc of this story would then be to forgive him this fucking shitshow of lying/ dissociation if only he would hug his daughters and not get back in that truck and drive off.  He’d walk back to where I am and tell me he’s not moving, he can’t do that to them, he’ll live here, and fly back and forth to see Sarah.  I saw it all in a flash of “please, god.  Please.” Because that’s what “not being ready” does to you.  It makes you stand on your porch and, in Grief and desperation, make deals like a grifter.

But he didn’t.   James hugged them both quickly then walked back around the truck, got in and drove off.

And that night I cried with the force of a heartbreak I can’t describe, as if something in my body was already living the sense of rejection my girls would feel, and the way they’d blame themselves.  As if I could feel my 9 and 6 year old babies archetypal pain and simultaneously their potential idolization of Sarah—younger, thinner; flashy, uncomplicated, the unburdened “winner”.   

I Could feel that I’d have to let my young, vulnerable babies integrate into the lives of people who didn’t care about hurting them.   

I was living inside the normalization of cruelty.  And rolling myself into the fetal position on my bed that night, I convulsed from the grief and the unrecoverable knowledge that my most beloved connection to both this earth and my own soul might never be whole again.  And that maybe neither would I.

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[Sometimes I don’t know why I write things.  Writing is therapeutic but I don’t reside with this specific grief anymore and I’ve got other fires to put out.   

But the other day, the six year old girl who lost her tooth the day her dad left sent me the writings attached to this post.   A heart-centered, emotional child from the beginning there have been many moments where I did not think it would be possible for her to remain on this planet.  Yet she now writes with a voice that is both herself and her heartache.  She writes with a voice that is both the ethereal and also the days she wanted to die.

So when I say I don’t know why I write, I think maybe it’s because I’m standing on my porch looking down the street, and not yet understanding that the grief I felt inside and consumed by was actually love patiently waiting for this very day]

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I’ve said goodbye to many things in my lifetime; many versions of myself and what I thought I needed to be and have in order to feel happy.

And of course I never wanted that day he moved to happen.   For many years, I felt stuck with memories and reverberations of it to where I even begged God to make the pain go away.  For the foes were real:  How can I bring up my girls to be caring and whole in a world where I’m normalizing cruelty?   In a world in which the immediate pain of rejection is their family?  Because events scar us, and we never feel healed.   That isn’t exaggeration; just look around.

But waiting on the porch with me that day was the wisdom of a universe.  A universe telling me that love won’t always look like a dad doing the right thing; sometimes love will look like a grandpa looking for a lost tooth or two sisters running after a truck together.  It’ll look like a mom in the fetal position and—as years pass—like an older sister letting her sleepless, anxious younger one sleep in her bed and like that same younger sister writing words that make their mom weep.

Because on that day I didn’t know that the stronger and most-loving version of our selves is a stranger until that’s who’s comforting us into sleep.  For the truth of all of this—of humanity; of the deep reckonings that emanate—is that we actually have no idea how fucking beautiful we even are until we’ve had to fight for one another.

 

And yes, there was still pain after that day, and will be again.  The world will pose as both farce and cruelty and people will not be what we want them to be.  But on that day, the universe told me that “ready” isn’t a point in time, it’s a state of being.  For things are not linear when placed inside the heart, and from agony comes caring to where we can’t truly see one without the other.  Because in the end, our tears baptize us into the love we are and have, and inside the heart, what looks like a sinking ship is merely one arc in a story about the ocean.