I was 68 years old when I last posted here. I am now 69. The time elapsed between then and now has only been 9 days. I feel as if I have been out of town, partly because I have driven the 140 mile round trip to Kansas City each of the last three days. One of those days included a second trip of about 70 miles to and from Lawrence, Kansas. The rest of the reason is that the days have been full, including concerts and gatherings with friends and family over food.
I am wishing I had a little studio apartment within walking distance of the cluster of music performance venues in KC to which I keep returning (can’t afford that – on a pension).
Two of the trips were to see Granddaughter Chloe play soccer (the team that Son Micah coaches). A special treat on Sunday was that I was invited to Micah’s earlier in the day to enjoy the smoked ribs, brisket and pulled pork he was preparing to practice for next Saturday’s sanctioned BBQ contest at the VFW in Overland Park, Kansas. Since the day was also designated as a birthday celebration for me we shared the traditional B&R ice cream pie (Grasshopper).
Friday’s trip to Lawrence was also for a birthday lunch, this time with long time KC friends. Wheatfields is a bakery/restaurant with a major emphasis on the bakery. The variety of bread of exceptional quality is impressive (great desserts too).
Before that on Wednesday I enjoyed a meal intended to celebrate two birthdays, mine and Don’s. These are folks who have been special friends to Mary Ann and me. They continue to include me a meal at various times, occasionally including me in family gatherings. A growler of Harmonie Bier that I brought from New Harmony, Indiana, provided a very pleasant accompaniment to what is always a spectacular meal.
Life comes in layers. I have talked about this before many times. Some experiences in the past days have surfaced a clearer recognition of the layers in which it comes. Most of the time, we don’t see them. When we don’t see them, whatever we are looking at, listening to, or living through seems boring. One of the experiences that triggered this rediscovery was attending a concert by the Pianist, Jonathan Biss. I attended the hour long pre-concert multimedia lecture on the composers, especially Leoš Janáček. According to Wikipedia: Leoš Janáček (1854 –1928) was a Czech composer, musical theorist, folklorist, publicist and teacher. He was inspired by Moravian and all Slavic folk music to create an original, modern musical style.
What became clear was that the pieces of music we would be hearing emerged from dramatic events, some of which took place around the time of my Mother’s birth (1907) in neighboring Poland (although her parents were German). A young person demonstrating for the right to have a university that used the Czech language was shot. One of the pieces to be played was written as a way of expressing his horror at what had happened. A Beethoven piece was described as a somewhat similar expression of the history in which he was living, the time of Napoleon, a time of great turmoil.
Jonathan Biss was so immersed in the music and the layers of meaning in it that his whole body, his facial expressions as well as his strong and facile hands made them visible as well as audible. It was an overwhelming experience for me and, it seemed, many others who were present. I chose not to use the word “audience” in describing those present, simply because the connotation of that word suggests just listening rather than fully experiencing the layers of the communication.
At the Symphony here in town the next evening (Saturday), the pre-concert comments revealed an even more complex struggle by the Russian composer, Shostakovich. According to Wikidpedia: Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (1906 –1975) was a Soviet Russian composer and pianist and was one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century. Shostakovich achieved fame in the Soviet Union under the patronage of Leon Trotsky’s chief of staff Mikhail Tukhachevsky, but later had a complex and difficult relationship with the government.
I was alive during the years he struggled so much. The piece of music, Symphony No. 5, reflected his struggle during the Cold War era, his conflicts with and accommodation to the iron-fisted control of the political leadership. As with Janáček, the music revealed much more than just notes and rhythms. It told a story. One movement served as a sort of Requiem for the fifteen million killed by Stalin. I was moved by what I heard.
This is not just about music. It is about a way of experiencing and engaging the depth and breadth of each encounter filling our minutes, hours, days and weeks. They come one at a time. Rather than letting those encounters drift by with only a glance, or worse yet, wasting those encounters wondering when they will be over so we can get on to something we imagine will be more full of life or less boring, responding to the Call to Live urges us to experience them fully.
Has anyone else heard his/her child say, “I’m bored,” meaning, find me something that will make me less bored, something that will create excitement for me? The harsh reality is that boredom is our responsibility. No one else can fix the problem of our boredom. It is what we bring to the experience that makes something boring or not so boring. Of course there are experiences in which the external stimuli are so overwhelming that remaining bored is not possible. The problem comes when we allow ourselves to be seduced into wasting life waiting for external stimuli matching or exceeding that which overpowered our boredom the last time. The worst part of it is our brains are structured to habituate to those overpowering stimuli so that soon the intensity needs to increase to overwhelm our boredom. We have the power to shatter the boredom by looking for, listening to the layers beneath the surface of whatever is going on, whomever we are talking with.
At the birthday lunch, friend Gary responded to my question about expectations for the Kansas City Royals this year with a very engaging description of the history and dynamics of the team. While I enjoy a good football or basketball game if I have a favorite team, I know very little about sports. Friends Gary and Charlie know sports at a level that is far distant from the one at which I live. As I thought about the concerts, the depth of the layers that welled up as I experienced the performances, it dawned on me that Gary and Charlie encounter the games they watch with that same sort of depth of experience. They know the players and their history, the way they have come together to form the team, the struggles they have been through. They see the dynamics of the play in multiple layers including the styles of the various coaches, the strengths and weaknesses of the teams, where they are in their upward or downward path. When they watch a game, they experience it fully. They bring to the experience the knowledge and awareness that makes a game of baseball, which I find boring, into something stimulating great interest and excitement.
Life comes in layers. What may seem boring at first glance can become thrilling with informed eyes and ears and minds, taking the time to see past the surface. While it would be impossible to experience all the layers to be found in every moment, look around as you travel through each day. There are thrilling discoveries to be made if you will dig for the gold that lies beneath the surface.