Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Color of Blood

Over and over I hear myself repeat-- to no one in particular-- Forgive me, I have fallen in love with solitude.  As though I am unfaithful, ungrateful... and not unaware of the kindnesses that have graced me recently, the way a thin blanket of spring snow unexpectedly coats the world with a soft muting of color and sound...

My calendar is white; my schedule is the timetable of grief.  Relief comes occasionally with digressions into other universes... imagination, listening to music, writing.. those meaningful phonecalls from my 'family' of friends who reach out and exchange sad moments the way we musicians trade eights.

My son, as always, is so positive. This is his 'role' in the passion play of life.  He looks ahead-- fully subscribes to the promise of future and tolerates the present with a cheerful stoicism.  Mom, he says,
when I speak of my suffering friends-- these people are not your problem-- don't enlist.  I am grateful that his DNA somehow balances mine-- he is the counterpoint to my dark melody.  I am the strings-- I dream in 'cello' I remarked in a note to someone last night, who surely knows what I mean.

What I do not say to my son, who may have had his young heart broken or threatened at a sensitive time when his little soul decided pragmatism was far preferable to melancholy, is  Oh, but they are my problem.  Early this morning-- the 'end' of another of my unregimented days, I watched the painful testimony of George Floyd's brother on national news, against new footage of fires burning in Minneapolis.  For those who grew up in the 1960's, these scenes are all too familiar... the urban manifestation of anger and horror at atrocities inflicted for centuries now, in the name of racism.

It baffles me that even within a single family unit some people grow up with prejudices, hatreds, resentments-- downright meanness.  I spent years trying to unravel harsh criminal riddles... it seemed there had to be a reason for cruelty and violence-- a reaction-- like a scientific principle of physics... but this only applies to a small fraction.  This morning I found myself weeping with the CNN journalist at the frustration and sorrow of a man whose brother had virtually been executed on national television-- all justice denied, humanity at its very lowest and worst claiming a life for absolutely no reason-- the misled cruel child holding a kitten underwater, torturing animals for entertainment.

It is not only one of the most disturbing pieces of video we've seen in a long time, but deeply provocative and infuriating.  I was ashamed of what it seems to mean to be a white American, and tormented with guilt for our helplessness here.  As though we have had not had enough death and suffering, had our lives frozen in the face of a tiny biological enemy who can take the breath away from grown men; here we watched a uniformed man purporting to represent authority and law violate and render powerless a strong un-uniformed individual-- the audacity, the lack of respect and humanity-- the sick twisted miscarriage of authority and justice.  There is no greater crime than to deprive a human being of life.  What have we become?  What have we been?

I'm not sure if anger tempers sorrow somehow; at least it has a correlative action.  I know that justice is a balm but cannot compensate for life lost.  Hate crimes, for most of us, are unthinkable... what makes people behave in this way?  Our earliest literature and art caricatures and personifies human vices and sins, as though these are a 'given'.  Most of us are less familiar with the virtues.  The current America is not just sick with a global pandemic, but the pre-existing condition of epidemic greed and
economic disparity.  By far the majority of virus deaths occurred in the zip codes of the poorest communities.  My friend and musical partner who died was eulogized and celebrated internationally; not so most of the quiet victims.  The NY Times listed them, but we all saw how tiny the figure-- how brief the description.

Today I am sad for my America which when I grew up I personified as a handsome boy-- on the edge of possibility. Now I see my country as a ruined, stooped man with a cane, bleeding dollars from stuffed pockets, blind and deaf to misery and inequality, myopic and small-minded, drinking from the fountain of greed, drunk with selfish misconception.  From my heart George Floyd, I  am so sorry.  To every black man I pass in the park at dusk who waves to me, as if to reassure me-- I am 'safe'-- I apologize.  To the cashier in Harlem who no longer packs groceries with gloves because, he tells me-- they protect me but not you-- I could kiss him.

And to my first husband-- for his utter colorblindness and courage to play with white musicians when few black players were doing so... I learned so much about the world from you who had scarcely read a book when we met, but could speak bass like no one else from stage.  What a rich life you gave me in those few years-- opening my ears to things I'd not understood,  crossing boundaries and defying conventions... it is to you and the greater understanding and love of music I owe part of this debt of solitude... may you be happy and safe and steadfast in your refusal to be tainted by the ignorance of unfortunate haters and traitors.  We bleed the same color, you used to assure me... you who even then was surely more evolved and compassionate than most of us will ever be...

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Friday, May 22, 2020

Waiting (2020 version)

One of my ex-boyfriends had a song I heard him perform only once; the chorus went Wai-hay-hay-hay...way-hay-hay-hay-hay-hay- tinngggg...  It went on.. not easy to sing on key unless you're sort of a yodeler...  but somehow some version of it has been repeating in my head.   Here we are, nearly in unison, across the world-- taking one of those 'breaths' a brilliant conductor can orchestrate and control by simply holding up his baton... while the brass, the strings, the woodwinds-- they all freeze in mid-breath or mid-stroke... waiting.

We spend a good part of our lives waiting; less so in the 5g internet age where responses are immediate-- goods are located and purchased, conversations anywhere in real-time, deals made, interruptions even possible.  When I was small I waited evenings for my father to turn the corner in his business suit-- he shared a cab and walked the last block or so.  Daddy! we'd yell, joyfully... greeting him just before he'd retire to the den with the scotch-on-the-rocks he'd waited for all day.

And now, the good witch in the story says, 'we must wait'... while the batter magically becomes cake, the oats and water turn into porridge, the pasta softens and curls, coffee brews.  Trees grow and fruit ripens, nested eggs hatch with life, babies are pulled from laboring mothers and childhood begins.  We keep ourselves occupied with schooling and tasks-- with jobs and careers and games and entertainment... while nature cycles on and provides us with most of what we expect.

So what now, as the whole world is paused-- not quite in unison-- for what have we waited?  For a new order?  For a universal decree of mourning?  A mass funeral for those families who have waited many weeks without comfort?  A diminished life for those who have been sickened and not quite recovered? Those who have been wounded and disabled?  A vaccine or cure for something that scarcely existed just six months ago?  A medal of honor for those who perished, who gave their lives unknowingly for some kind of cruel science?  Rewards for the medics and attendants who cared tirelessly and often hopelessly for people who were strangers and became intimates? For society to resume its habits and ways, or to resume with slightly altered protocol?  Will people be kind to one another? Has the waiting tested their patience to the limit?

For me, aside from its homophonic twin, waiting had a certain romance to it.  The 'hardest part', Tom Petty insisted, but I disagree.  The diagnosis is worse-- the verdict, the failure to acquit, the end.  We are all here waiting for death, some have said.... life itself is the waiting.

Ironically, people have learned to stand on line with more patience.  Of course, most have phones and social 'pacifiers' with which to entertain themselves.  I bring a book; I read, look around-- enjoy the air.  Things take much time these days; I waited tonight on a long supermarket line to find the price of chicken had doubled once again.  On my way out, I remarked about it to a woman with greying dreadlocks...  But I'll buy you chicken, baby, she said... in this voice that brought on a flood of tears.  No, no, I reassured her-- I'm fine-- just cranky.  We all need a hug, baby, she said... but we gotta wait for that shit! .... and we laughed.

Like those Biblical patriarchs and Greek heroes-- we wait for love, we wait for death, we wait for God to listen and look and reply.  Most of the time, we are clueless and helpless.  Especially now-- we wait for our mayors and governors to advise us, to coordinate a plan-- to be safe.

The tent hospital in Central Park has been dismantled-- just like that, it vanished almost overnight.  Families of those who did not survive here will have no place to pass and remember their loved one.  It is a grass field, once again.  Will children play here and forget the small successes and tragedies that marked this lawn in the month of April?  

I have learned from experience that grief subsides with the passing of four seasons.  My friend whose husband passed away does not believe this.  You need to get by one birthday, one Christmas, one anniversary, one snowfall, one fireworks display, one turkey dinner... etc.  It is unimaginable but it comes-- the day when you forget for an hour or two, you sleep without a dream, you laugh deeply and uncontrollably.

Walking around the Harlem Meer at dusk tonight, I witness people with masks zig-zagging paths to avoid others.  A few men are maskless by a bench, laughing and smoking, sharing food, touching.  Will we ever trust one another enough to stand shoulder-by-shoulder in crowds?  I passed one of my son's former mentors last night and we spontaneously and courageously clasped hands.  It was so human and healing and strange.  A woman shook her head as though we'd violated some civic law.

I am willing to wait for the next version of future... but not with phone in hand, biding my time.  I am hoping to fill this with some kind of energy-- some kind of work, some kind of prayer... so when the baton lowers,  I will pledge myself forward into the next measure, knowing it is likely to be the 'hardest part'.

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