Be careful what you ask for.
As I set sail for France, I suggested that the inner theme of my six weeks of pilgrimage would be “holding the tension of the opposites”.
I got exactly that.
My facebook posts are filled with the good moments that I hope to always remember: the staggeringly beautiful scenery of the Dordogne and Provence, the spectacular light show at Chartres Cathedral and the stunning artworks of Paris along with pictures of food (almost) too gorgeous to eat. What you don’t see memorialized in my posts are the daunting difficulties, increasing exhaustion and often almost insurmountable challenges that increased along the way. If Woody Allen is right and “time+ tragedy= comedy”, one day I will create a Monty Pythonesque skit with the title “Machine Guns, Rat Poop and Near Death by GPS”.
One of the images that continually impressed me throughout my journey, though, were the ancient stone walls (sometimes covered with angry graffiti) from which the most vibrant and delicate poppies would burst forth in scarlet splendor. I tried to keep having the eyes to see these, to savor the moments of beauty, even during the darker days. It is a capacity that the great poets, artists and composers that I love have in abundance.
If ever there was a patron saint of holding the tension of the opposites and snatching beauty whenever and wherever you can, it was the prolific Schubert who once said of his music, “Whenever I tried to sing of love, it turned to sorrow, and whenever I tried to compose songs of sorrow, they turned to love”. Legend holds that one of my favorite songs, Standchen, was penned by Schubert at a tavern. In the brief period the composer enjoyed between his first onset of syphilis and its second onset that culminated in his untimely death at age 31, Schubert would stroll through the countryside with his friends. According to early biographies, he wrote the music for this beautiful song in the one hour period at a village inn as he awaited his lunch.
I think that the great mythologist (and beer lover) Martin Shaw would appreciate this story of Schubert- and not just because it happened over a pint of ale. Shaw encourages his students to give themselves just ten minutes to write a poem in his workshops: he swears that having such limits helps keep the inner critics who expect perfection at bay and the time pressure allows for more uninhibited creativity. So, in that spirit, I took up a new practice after my 6 am yoga class today: writing a ten minute letter from my favorite figures from the past. I was curious what Schubert might say to me in my imagination after immersing myself so deeply in his music and biography this past week for the five hour Schubertiade on Sunday. This is what emerged.
What Schubert Said…
by Kayleen Asbo
June 18, 2019
We may all be poised in the moments between agony and death.
Our symphonies may never be performed in our sight.
Marriage, children, fame and wealth may elude us.
We may be forever haunted by the ghosts of lost siblings,
failed dreams and tragic choices.
But even so, there is a path towards hope.
If you look closely,
The swan on the lake has never been more luminous
Gliding with her soft white wings.
through the ebony shadows and the pearly water lilies.
Take the time to really see
and capture the light in whatever way you can.
Take the time to really listen,
And you, too, might hear a song
that makes the whole journey
There are cracks in even the hardest thing .
Find a way to celebrate the scarlet poppies
that still insist on blooming
even in the darkest days of life.
I am choosing my titles more carefully these days. While I will always honor those people throughout history who have held the tension of the opposites, my next series, beginning July 8, is now subtitled Heroines of Hope. This four week summer salon series at the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum will bring to life four of the women who left an indelible imprint on the history of France and whose lives reflect profound resilience, integration, courage, grace and creativity. I will be taking dictation each morning from them as I await my morning coffee after yoga.