Florestan and Eusebius
by Kayleen Asbo
For Clara Schumann
There was a split so deep in Schumann
He gave names to his different sides:
Florestan, the bold, confident hero
Eusebius: the tender, melancholy, soulful pilgrim
At first, the split was a game they played ,
Etched in song in Carnival and Opus 6
She proofread the witty reviews
he wrote under the two pseudonyms
in the music journal that gave them their daily bread.
The crack widened over the years .
Florestan became filled with rage and fire, burning with humiliation and fury,
while Eusebius, sank into total silence: agoraphobic, listless and depressed.
Eventually the crack opened so wide, the conflicting voices
threw Robert into the Rhine River
and he passed his last days in the asylum in Bonn.
Through it all, Clara trudged on:
writing love letters from her concert tours and
tender melodies for his birthday.
She was drawn by a siren song she could not tune out.
Despite the paranoia,
the fits of abuse,
the whirlpool of instability and emotional extremes,
even in the face of suicide attempts, she played on,
remembering the beauty that lived trapped inside him.
At the end , she dipped her fingers into wine so he could suck on them like a baby.
She closed his eyes with tears of both sorrow and relief
and spent the rest of her days enshrining the memory of her love
in the music that leapt him back to life under her devoted fingers.
I think of this as I go aching with my own grief to the piano to play ‘Widmung”
Noticing for the first time that the words translate as “You are my grave”.
I imagine her shaking, a leaf in the wind after one of Robert’s storms,
Pasting a smile of composed tranquility on her face while she practiced this song
Though inside, her stomach heaved and her pulse raced.
Day after day until the end
She continued to inscribe their conjugal felicity in the marriage diary they shared --
Marking in frail symbols their nights of passion
unable to deny their sacred splendor
as she held fast to the songs
that she knew
were inside of him.
Though the fires are not yet out, the smoke has cleared enough for a brief while that last night the stars shone again on parts of suffering Sonoma County. The air outside where I live in my little meditation studio is once again yielding the fragrance of eucalyptus and rosemary, and my own heart is filled with to the brim with sweet and profound tenderness after witnessing others in their vulnerable depths at a moving grief ritual led by Francis Weller and Taylor Lampson on Saturday and drinking in the loveliness of last night's labyrinth walk.
Francis (whose amazing book The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief should be required reading for our world right now) reminded us that in previous ages, those whose lives had been marked with tragedy would wear black arm bands, so we could more gently and compassionately greet them. Though each of us carry our sorrow in moments of solitude, grief cannot be digested alone. In order for grief to be both felt and to transform, we need community and we need things that are strong enough to hold our despair. Without these, we are prone to either freezing into numbness or to staying stuck in a place of emotional overwhelm.
All of us here in Sonoma County, and many of you who are close to us in other parts of the world, have been traumatized by the events of the past week, which have followed so swiftly on the heels of the tragedy of Las Vegas shootings, the hurricanes in Florida, Puerto Rico and Texas and countless other tragedies large and small.
What will make it possible to stagger through the days to come? What will make it possible to start anew? How can we stay in a place of deep feeling without becoming so overwhelmed that we freeze or become incapacitated?
I believe that what we most need now most are two things: beauty and blessing. The act of blessing is something that needed to be reclaimed. It is not the province of priests, but a birthright and soul-calling for all of us. We do not need holy water or prescribed litanies. It can be as simple as saying to a stranger ( as I have witnessed so many doing here in Petaluma): “How are you doing? Is your house still standing? Are you safe? And then, “Take care of yourself. Be well”- and then offering a hug, or a kind touch on the shoulder or just a gaze full of sincere loving kindness or maybe one of your biscotti.
Now is the time to invoke and awaken beauty. Time and time again throughout history, beauty has been a pathway, and sometimes the only pathway, of hope when old structures are crumbling. We are now living in a time of a New Hero’s Journey. Both Joseph Campbell and the Dalai Lama indicated that the future salvation would hinge not on an individual but on a community. It is up to us as a community to create a refuge of beauty for the souls of the world.
In the days to come, I will be announcing partnerships for our community that will also be able to connect with you wherever you might live, to offer beauty, depth and meaning through community-- to a new level.
In the meantime, I hope wherever you are you might give yourself the gift of beauty--and I urge you to consider how you might bring more beauty into your own life and the lives of others.
We bought roses in preparation for the labyrinth walk last night. At first we debated whether it was a senseless indulgence, but truthfully, we need roses more than ever, to remember that life is not just thorns but blossoms. I offer you this song by Dan Forest: Entreat Me Note To Leave You. Filled with dissonance in the beginning, it opens to offer a song of profound love and hope. Though it can be heard as a poignant song between two individuals ( the text is from theBook of Ruth), I imagine it now as a song about our collective. It mirrors the commitment I have to my own dear little community.
Entreat me not to leave you
For where you go I will go
And where you live I will live
Your people Shall be my people
Roses, music, poetry, stories of hope and healing: may you drink deeply from these wells of beauty wherever you may be. Hold each other gently with kindness.. I cannot predict whether or not there will be fires tomorrow- but today there will be Bach and Mozart, and in the weeks to come, Beethoven and more labyrinth walks. Such things might just be the beauty we need in order to plant the seeds of hope for our future.
I write this from Sonoma County, where a deadly blaze has been burning without containment for the past five days. The death toll climbs daily. My car is packed with the things that truly cannot be replaced: my books of musical compositions, the sculpture and a drawing that is all I have of my father’s legacy, photo albums of my daughter’s childhood, paintings that I have cherished and which define “home” for me. Dozens of my friends have evacuated already, and several have lost everything they own, including my friend and sometimes videographer, Christopher. In the ashes of his home are the melted remains of the Mythica video equipment and the films we made the past year that we had hoped to turn into a revenue stream for both of us.
All of this is tragic—but with the large lens of time, it is not unusual. As a scholar of Ancient and Medieval history, I know that there have been so many worse disasters in the world, like the plagues that killed 30% of the population of parts of Europe in one summer. Or the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Or the Albigensian Crusade, which decimated Southern France in the 13th century, leaving a vast swath of burned lands and tortured citizens. It is not yet as catastrophic as the World Wars my grandparents and great grandparents endured, or the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s or the Great Potato Famine in Ireland.
Tragedy is a tune that returns again and again, weaving its dark and often brutal sounds in the tapestry of life. The question for us is not will tragedy break us---but will it break us open?
The great traditions of alchemy and depth psychology invite us to consider that inside the ashes of outer destruction are the seeds of new life, liberation and depth. These great traditions affirm that what looks like a breakdown can be a breakthrough, and that when all seems lost, something of greater meaning and authenticity might be found. This is the arc of the Hero’s Journey that we see played out over and over—not just in the myths of Parsifal or the stories of Jesus and Buddha, but also in the lives of Francis of Assisi, Dante Alighieri and Ludwig van Beethoven.
I am heartened and inspired by the story of the Confraternities of Florence, groups of laypeople who responded to the horrors of the plague during the calamitous 14th century. There were not enough doctors to tend the victims, nor enough priests to bury the bodies, and so ,ordinary folks gathered together to do what needed to be done: to tend to the sick, to bury the dead, to console the bereaved. Inspired by their patron saint Mary Magdalene and Francis of Assisi, they gathered their courage to stand fully present in the midst of pain, and also offered what they could of hope. They also created joyful liturgies of song and dance, commissioned works of art, and in the midst of unbelievable suffering and sorrow, found reasons to remind each other of the goodness and beauty that still existed in life.
These words of Goethe capture something of what I am feeling:
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We must not hope to be mowers,
And to gather the ripe gold ears,
Unless we have first been sowers
And watered the furrows with tears.
It is not just as we take it,
This mystical world of ours,
Life's field will yield as we make it
A harvest of thorns or of flowers.
I look around my community and I marvel. The evacuation centers are overflowing with donations and volunteers. The local coffee shops and restaurants are giving a percentage of all their sales to fire victims. People are opening up their homes to friends and strangers alike to stay. Hairdressers and massage therapists and yoga studios are offering free services tot those displaced by fire. In the midst of the worst of circumstances, we are also seeing the best of humanity shining forth.
Marc Andrus, Episcopalian Bishop at Grace Cathedral, told me a wondrous tale a few years ago. He had collected disaster relief funds for Haiti to assist in recovery after their horrific earthquake. When he arrived with his wife Sheila, who has a background in public health, they were astonished to learn that the first thing the Haitians wanted to rebuild was not the hospital or the water treatment plant. The first thing the Haitians wanted to rebuild was the music conservatory. This, they were told, was because music represented something even more important than medicine: it represented hope.
Bishop Marc's story has stayed with me. In the coming months, Sonoma County will need so much assistance as we rebuild shattered lives and charred and now desolate landscapes. We will need all the help we can get with building, and no-interest loans and housing. But just as much—maybe even more—we will need hope. If you are one of those people who needs to be reminded that there is still beauty and goodness in the world, I invite you to join my email list. Each week I promise to send out music, poetry or art that might be balm for your soul--- I know it is for mine.
Together may we find the seeds for renewal, to live a life of communal celebration, intimacy and connection deeper than we have yet dreamed.