The Still Point

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

What are memories made from? I know there are scientific answers to that question, but I’m more interested in the metaphysical explanation. We know that memory is malleable, that we can’t count on our memories of conversations and events being completely accurate. Or at least, we should know that. I believe we do remember feelings – our feelings of fear or happiness, safety or sorrow. More than sight, senses of smell and hearing seem to create lasting memories that often relate to our feelings, rather than to specific moments in our lives. Our house was affected by a tornado several years ago, and it wasn’t until weeks later when I sat on an airplane and heard the jet engines roar to life that I suffered a few moments of PTSD.  I don’t recall hearing anything except breaking glass in my panic at the time, until I heard a similar sound which caused that panic to return.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

Wrestling with T.S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton seems like an autumnal event to me. I don’t pretend to have any depth of understanding of these poems in his Four Quartets, but the words evoke familiar feelings that I yearn to understand, and cause questions to arise which don’t have answers. There is so much truth in Eliot’s belief that poetry communicates before it is understood. News and life have lately conspired to make me think about memories and nostalgia and all the ways that our minds hold on – or let go – of life’s experiences.  Is Eliots’ “still point” the moment when the present meets our former self in a memory? Do the future and past exist within the present?

Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

An important figure in my childhood memories died recently. He lived on a farm where my friend and I spent our summers, and she and I will return to the scenes of those youthful summers which bound us so closely together for a memorial service. Memories of those idyllic summers from many decades ago are back in force right now. Laying in the grass under the shade of a tree-lined horse pasture, propped on elbows in hunt of four-leaved clover.  Picnics near the opening to a badger’s den that we watched for years with hope of seeing a nose poke out, wind moving through the pine trees, games of croquet and badminton that became boring or competitive depending on the day. It was a childhood of summers spent reading on the screened porch and picking gigantic zucchinis that seemed to grow overnight. Reclaiming those memories means reclaiming those feelings of freedom and wonder and a thousand life lessons, and all of that makes me feel like I am moving through Eliot’s coexistence of time past and present and future.

In another part of my life, my mother is shedding new memories more quickly and clinging to old memories more ferociously. I’ve entered her world of time past and present in ways that I hope will keep us close for as long as possible. I’ve also begun teaching a piano student who is openly and bravely facing memory issues. Music is this person’s connection between past and present. In Oliver Sack’s book Musicophilia he writes in the final chapter, titled “Music and Identity,” about the ways that music experienced by dementia patients draws on the deepest parts of their memories, but also grounds them in the present, creating shared experiences of listening and singing with others around them.

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence.

Peace,
Sonya

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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was, and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much for which we can be grateful.

 

 

Time

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

From the 15th chapter of I Corinthians and used by Handel in his Messiah, these are words that often echo through my brain and which have inspired a couple of different postings. Unlike music, which is ruled by timely precision – rhythms, meters, tempi – and unlike the world we live in where timing can be everything and time usually feels like a scarce and valuable commodity, these words imply a less concrete, more expansive sense of time.

Perhaps, like me, you have been sitting on Metro, waiting for the single track to become available so your train can move, when you hear the operator assuring passengers that we will be moving momentarily.  “In a moment” – a phrase of breathtaking elasticity.  The train conductor’s vague sense of time brought to my mind’s ear the words above from Messiah, sung of course by a rich baritone voice.

A humbling moment for me was in sixth grade when our creative writing teacher, an amazing woman named Frances Sandmel, asked our class to write about time.  I was stumped, completely and utterly drawing a blank.  My more clever classmates came up with wonderful ideas that Mrs. Sandmel then cobbled into a poem which we read as a class at a very 70’s kind of happening, with musicians from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, in a garden at the William Howard Taft Museum. The essential idea of her creation was that time equals change.  My young classmates wrote about time as mold growing on bread and the instant between a soldier standing and falling to the ground after being shot (our world included a war in Vietnam on television every evening after all).  Of time as a baby becoming a grandmother.

In other words, time is a twinkling of an eye and also a moment, because change happens at the speed of light as often as it does over an expanse. We talk about time standing still, and time flying.  We experience time in slow motion and yet decades of our lives seem to go by in a flash.

I believe that God exists simultaneously in the past, present and future, and that we would do well to find ways of doing the same. Would that we could live with a deeper knowledge of our connections to the past, while having the energy to satisfy our present needs and desires, and at the same time fly on the wings of our hopes for the future.  Seeing time this way just might take some of the edge off of our worries about not having enough of it and allay our concerns when time isn’t moving fast enough for those things we care most about, whether personal matters or on issues of justice and social change.  Those times when we need help to remember that the arc of the moral universe is indeed long… but only in human terms.

No surprise that Bach provides some useful wisdom about time in his Cantata No. 106, Gottes Zeit ist der allerbest Zeit – God’s time is the best of all times.

Peace,
Sonya

* * * * *

Where I’ll be:

September 4 through November 20 – organist/choir director at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church (1 Chevy Chase Circle, Washington, D.C.) while their Music Director is on sabbatical. http://www.chevychasepc.org

November 6 – 4:00, playing for John Rutter’s Requiem with the choir of All Saints Episcopal Church, Chevy Chase.

* * * * *

This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.