Sunday, May 29, 2011

I Was Listening

I was listening to Gorecki's Symphony No. 3 this morning. It is also known as the symphony of sorrowful songs. It is a meditation on the Holocaust and the catastrophic wastes of war. It might be the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard. The beauty of it is so clear, so crystalline I was taken back by loving something born out of annihilation, cruelty, depravity. I am always moved to tears as the music asks me to face all that was lost. It insists that I listen. It demands I bear witness. It asks, "And what, exactly, are you doing with your life? You, who know nothing of these horrors except as history or art, what are you doing with the life that moves in you?"

What, indeed.

* * *

For about a year now I have kept track of the possible answers to that question here. The words themselves the doing. But this morning I know there is more that I can do - both for you, and for the life that moves within me. I have come to understand they are one and the same.

Listening to Gorecki this morning reminded me that cruelty is always successful; it always wins, but never completely and because of that is also always doomed to collapse. History is nothing if not a litany of cruelty written on the largest possible stage. Everywhere tyrants and despots and kings imagine the world complete if their death count is high enough. But they fail to account for their own death and even the most successful murderers die. They want what cannot be had - the dominion of death over life.

Life persists. It dies in the particular, but always persists in the aggregate. If this is so for the sweep of human society, how can it not be so in the arc of a given life, your life?

The art and histories made by the survivors are made individually. Our greatness comes from the ordering and re-ordering and re-building of story and meaning - either public or intimate. If your life is fucked, unfuck it by finding your voice. Insist on being heard - not in retribution or revenge, but from the central core of yourself.

* * *

Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna, was an 18 year old held in a Gestapo jail in September of 1944 near the Tatra Mountains in Poland. She scratched the following message on the wall of her cell: 

O Mamo nie płacz nie—Niebios Przeczysta Królowo Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie
(Oh Mamma do not cry—Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always). 

Gorecki found these words and they moved him: "In prison, the whole wall was covered with inscriptions screaming out loud: 'I'm innocent', 'Murderers', 'Executioners', 'Free me', 'You have to save me'—it was all so loud, so banal. Adults were writing this, while here it is an eighteen-year-old girl, almost a child. And she is so different. She does not despair, does not cry, does not scream for revenge. She does not think about herself; whether she deserves her fate or not. Instead, she only thinks about her mother: because it is her mother who will experience true despair. This inscription was something extraordinary."

Gorecki builds the Third Movement of his symphony around Helena's words.

Cruelty swept her away, but Life persisted and now, now we have her words, her grace, her presence because an artist found this bit of graffiti and saw it for what it was:  life in the midst of death.

Do you need a jail cell to believe it? You, who have been given so much (no matter your personal losses), what are you doing with the gift of your days?

Revenge? Despair? Why?

Your life is a gift. It is meant to be played with while you can.

Work. Build. Scratch your name into walls so those who come after you have something to work with.


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