I lifted my head slightly from the laptop crammed between my stomach and the steering wheel as Elias opened the car door last night. He climbed into the car after his piano lesson. “How was it?” I asked, barely glancing up.
“Oh … it was so beautiful. I wish you could have heard it.” He said serenely.
I quickly turned to face him. “Wait. Really?!” I asked. My eyes searching his face for a glimmer of a joke but finding nothing except quiet, peaceful joy.
“Oh yes. It was just beautiful. I wish you could have heard it.”
“Gosh, Elias. Me too. Let’s go back in after Zoe’s voice lesson so I can ask Ms. Ann to have you play it for me.”
“Oh … no.” He said. “It’s fine. I’ll practice it for you at home. It won’t be as good on the keyboard but you’ll hear it next week on the piano.” He slipped into his seat and picked up his book to read.
This was the first time I hadn’t joined them inside for their lessons. I was trying to get some work done and I missed the moment. Life is like that. Over and over again. You never know when you’ll miss a moment. Or catch one.
This morning before school Elias sat at his keyboard and played his little song for me and Brayden. He played it five times through and each time he got better at it. “You’re using both hands now.” I observed. “How do you do that? How do you know when to use which one and at what time.” Elias pointed to his music book and calmly explained the foreign language to me and how he read it. “You are remarkable,” I whispered. “Truly remarkable. I don’t understand anything you just said to me. I am in awe of you.” He smiled his whole-body-smile and turned to play again. I sat behind him. Taking in the moment.
Later today, I was graced with the gift of reading this beautiful On Being piece about grief and suffering: Time Does Not Heal All Wounds by Omid Safi. Mr. Safi tags Patti Smith singing Bob Dylan’s: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at the Bob Dylan Nobel Prize ceremony. Both the article and the song are profoundly moving. At about 1:54 into her song, Smith stumbles on the lyrics. She tries to recover but cannot. “I’m sorry.” She says as she searches for the words. “I’m sorry … I’m sorry. Can we start that section … I apologize. I’m sorry … I’m just so nervous.” And there it is. Perhaps the most beautiful gift a performer can give their audience — their realness. Their humanness. Their vulnerability.
Isn’t that what we want more than anything from an artist?
Patti Smith’s honesty made the hair on my arms stand up. My heart raced. I cried at her rawness, her integrity and her truth telling. I felt awake, alive and connected. The song progresses from a dyad between singer and guitarist to an entire orchestra accompanying them. Only then — with all of the musicians joining together — does Smith fully lose herself in the song. She moves. She sways. She embodies the song and finishes better than when she began. Beautiful.
Omid Safi also tags the song, “It’s Quiet Uptown” from the play, Hamilton: An American Musical. The song talks about living with the unimaginable, in this case, the death of a child. It too is beautiful. Unimaginable things happen to people every single day. Every minute. Every second. As I listened to the song, it confirmed what I have been grappling with for some time now. This idea that moment to moment in our daily living, we are presented with a choice. We can choose to live a life half-breathing, partially drowning — or we can learn to swim in the current of life along the River of the Unimaginable.
I had always thought we needed to reject and disown the unimaginable parts of our lives to move on. To be free. To live. More recently, I thought I needed to integrate my childhood trauma as parts of my whole-self, and I thought being angry was the answer. But now — now, I think living with the unimaginable is about moving with the current and not fighting it. It’s about living with the unimaginable without letting it control how we relate to ourselves and the world. We can live, respond and feel everything while not reacting to life and people in a way that prevents us from being open hearted, self-loving and beautiful in the world. We do get to be beautiful.
When Elias got in the car last night I could feel the beauty of his song. Truly I could. I want life to vibrate with the hum of artistic beauty. That to me is authentic beauty and aliveness. Patti Smith shows us this in her stumbling and fumbling and honesty. Living with the unimaginable is about creating a river that is wide enough and long enough — only then can we allow ourselves to negotiate the unimaginable without being imprisoned by it. This is where the beauty is. Our own beauty. In life’s bittersweet moments. Moments we miss. Moments we catch. Both. I’m holding my heart open wide. Vulnerable and unashamed. I don’t want to miss the beautiful moments because I’m too busy clinging to the unimaginable.