Wednesday, June 21, 2017

remembering beauty

I have always been a sucker for beauty: It can lay me out. It is, quite literally, something to die for. But what is it? I don't know and still, I am a sucker for beauty.

-- Before she died, I once begged -- and I do not beg -- my younger sister to play the piano for me. She admitted that she played, but said she only played for herself. I begged and begged to no avail. Why did I begs?
In earlier times, when she and my older sister had no married lives or children, I one day heard both of them ... downstairs ... taking piano lessons.
My older sister got all the notes right. It was good.
My younger sister got the same tune wrong and yet, and yet, her playing made my heart soar. There was passion, there was love, and there were errors that made absolutely no difference. Beauty does not mean perfection.

-- I have seen numerous beautiful statues of Gautama the Buddha -- wonderfully carved, expressive, yummy. And yet there is only one I really remember. It was made out of what was clearly a piece of fire wood. Blackened by time, with chisel or knife marks entirely apparent. Someone, somewhere, had sat down and done that work, perhaps after a long day of work. It was chunky and clunky and it pierced me to a place I cannot name.

-- Once, at the University of California at Berkeley, I went to a gymnasium to hear the violinist David Oistrakh play. He was not my favorite violinist. He stood beneath a basketball backboard that had  been folded up to create space around this virtuoso. I sat in an uncomfortable folding chair along the upper track section of the gym. Oistrakh stood alone with his violin in a place whose acoustics were poor at best. And he played. And the music was so beautiful that it was like staring at the sun -- there came a time when I simply could no longer listen. I had to stop ... had to for reasons I cannot name. I was being sucked into some ineffable forever. I was being burned alive with beauty.

-- In Berlin, I went to hear the great guitarists Andre Segovia and Carlos Montoya. First came Segovia. He entered the stage and sat in the chair provided. He sat and he waited. He waited until all whispering and coughing and fidgeting had died away. He insisted that it die away. He was the maestro and he demanded reverence for his achievement. It was an uncomfortable series of moments. Finally, he played something classical and recognizable. He didn't miss a note. There was applause and perhaps an encore. When Montoya entered the same stage some months later, he reminded me of a rumpled sock at the bottom of the laundry hamper. His music was folk-based, dance-based. Montoya paid no attention to coughs and whispers. He played and let the music do the talking. It made me feel like a dog rolling over on a lawn -- all waggy-tailed and wiggly with delight. The audience seemed to feel the same. Again and again the audience called him back. Everyone was in love with the man who recognized and loved the music. Again and again they would not let him go. I too was wild to have him return. Finally, he came out one last time and spoke in English because he did not seem to speak German. "I am tired," he said approximately, "but let me play some scales." And he did -- hammering-on scales that did nothing more than go up and go down ... and honest to Christ, I thought the concert hall would collapse with the adoration of the applause. Me too! Me too! Take me too!
-- Once, when deeply immersed in the brown-rice circuit of spiritual practice, I had a friend who was into shiatsu. She asked if she could practice on me. Sure, I said, not quite sure if shiatsu or some more intimate connection were in the offing. And she began and continued and continued and bit by bit, I was a goner. Was she just beginning or had she ended? There seemed to be no edges to what was happening. If someone had put a snub-nosed .38 behind my ear and whispered, "this is it," I would have been forced to agree, "this is it ... shoot me now."

-- In a largely-empty art gallery, I was staring at a painting of a mountain. It wasn't a very good painting, but it had swept me in. And at just about that moment, I heard the fruity, ersatz voice of the gallery owner behind me, crooning, "Beautiful, isn't it?" And I was suddenly enraged. I was within an ace of beating the shit out of him. I hated... hated... hated ... But what did I hate? Don't talk ... don't move ... don't praise ... just DON'T!!!

Which is precisely what I am doing here. And yet I want to remember that there have been these times and others like them when everything came together or fell apart or whatever ... and took me with them.

Not you. Just me. 

Thank you... and apologies.

1 comment:

  1. I remember dad once found a car he wanted on a lot, the price was right, etc. He went in to buy it, but the salesman couldn't stop selling it. Dad left without buying.

    There's a time to talk. And there's a time to shut the fuck up. Looking or listening time's are good for the latter. I guess some folks can't believe it's not about them and must demonstrate their perceived part.

    It was a lot of years later when dad discovered buddhism and thought maybe it fitted best. But in hindsight, he was pretty zen for the southern baptist he was at the time.