Breath and Wood
I last held a butterfly almost a year ago. This afternoon, what may have been a brand new butterfly was unsteadily flapping on the surface of the paved walk to my door. I bent down, offered my hand for perching, and it climbed on. Enthusiastically fluttering, the butterfly grasped my fingertips. I carried the butterfly to an unobtrusive bit of shrubbery, handed it off to a likely spot, and it clambered away, choosing a leaf stem to clutch as it aired its wings. Before long, the usual gang of songbirds would begin to gather near the little creek that runs along my door for their early evening wave of activity. Maybe now the butterfly was a less vulnerable snack, slightly less likely to get neatly clipped in a bird’s beak, the bodiless pair of wings left behind on the ground (somewhat amusingly like a sardonic villain’s signature left behind at the scene of a murder for detectives to puzzle over). That sometimes happens to butterflies and moths- nobody wants to eat the wings, if they can help it. Perhaps they get stuck in the teeth.
I don’t have a problem with animals successfully catching and eating their prey or anything- I tend to not interfere, but the kid’s brand new- give’im a break for a minute, at least.
This morning I listened to a beloved old friend of mine, this recording.
I’ve shared it here before. This recording of this piece meant so much to me from the first time I heard it, when it was featured near the beginning of the film ‘Amadeus’, which I saw on VHS home video as soon as it was available. I was 11 or newly 12 and taking piano lessons at the time and my mother sometimes sang alto with a symphony chorus, but our family would never have seen ‘Amadeus’ in the theater because my dad would never take a gamble on a movie night out with that one.
About two years later when I would have been fourteen, my dad took Mom and me to see ‘Full Metal Jacket’ one night at the Ultravision (Rest In Peace, dear Ultravision theater on other side of town from my suburb, you were majestic). That was more his type of movie- he still loves war movies and they were a frequent weekend presence on the living room TV. While I am always grateful for my parents’ mostly hands-off style when it came to what my brother and I watched and read as kids, I wasn’t ready to see that film at that time- not necessarily because of the depiction of the violence of the Vietnam War, but because of the first part of Kubrick’s film that focuses on the young protagonist’s experiences in Basic Training, and tells the story of the awkward, quiet, different, and doomed Private Lawrence, portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio. A lot of that story felt disturbingly familiar to me because I identified with Lawrence. Then, I was beginning to endure the waiting-room phase of my school career, by this time not being bullied all the time, but not able to do something like…relax while at school. At home, my father was at times not unlike a 6’5”drill instructor, for starters. Sitting rapt and frozen in the dark theater, I watched Private Lawrence’s arrival at his fate in shocked nuclear horror, and that segment would closely haunt me for years after that.
About an hour later, as we emerged late at night from the theater to walk across the silent parking lot to the car, I felt way too visible and vulnerable and felt that at any second I could be torn to pieces by a hail of gunfire that could erupt out of the darkness. But my parents- my father a Vietnam vet- seemed fine, and I didn’t want to let them know I felt that gripped by fear; I had to act normal. I don’t think the adrenaline quit pumping until I was home, up in my room. Now that I think of it, even though I’m a Kubrick fan, I’ve never watched Full Metal Jacket over again.
Back at age 11 or 12, though, I was fully absorbed in Milos Forman’s Amadeus. I fell in love with the film and everything about it, especially the Mozart music, and watched it multiple times. I fervently asked for the ‘Amadeus’ soundtrack on vinyl for Christmas that year; it was the centerpiece of a handful of records I wanted, which included the immortal ‘Purple Rain’ soundtrack. I worked diligently to learn to play the lovely main theme of this piece, still one of my favorites of Mozart’s:
I remember one night in my room around that time, putting the needle down for probably the 100th time on Serenade for Winds, and sitting on my bed, listening. I never tired of hearing it, and thought it was so very sweet, beautiful and comforting, which it is. It’s a lot of things. In the film, the fictionalized Salieri speaks of this piece being filled with longing, and this particular evening, I felt the music resonating in an unaccustomed way in my heart. It was exactly what Salieri’s character described in the film, and I understood, but wouldn’t have been able to verbalize it. An insatiable and desperate feeling of unfulfilled need, a longing for an unnameable something I could never have. I was now lying on my bed listening, tears flowing across my temples and dripping into my ears, and not having a clue why I was feeling so intense.
At the same time, though, it now felt as if the music itself, this serenade of breath and wood, was an understanding companion who knew exactly how I felt when no one else on Earth understood.
I come back to the Amadeus recordings every once in a while, and I am spoiled for any other interpretation of the Serenade for Winds than the one conducted by Sir Marriner. None of them are quite the same. This morning, with my mug of hot coffee and the cool morning air drifting through the screen of the storm door, I woke myself up to Serenade for Winds, feeling it floating in the air of my living room. I’m so grateful I have that recording in my life to listen to.
For the evening, it’s time for another favorite from that soundtrack; a short piece, but utterly stunning and towering in what it achieves, painting the soaring joy of everything being all right in one’s world, of love transforming.
The overwhelming delight that fills us when our longing is finally quenched and we are overflowing with love. Enough to fill the sky. I got to feel that with him, with Radical 3. For just a short delirious time, the love I gave was returned to me like never before. A new level appeared and I overflowed, and everything was new.
Hidden or not, there’s always another level to reach, to unlock, always. With anything, in any direction.
At least, that’s what I think and feel.
I feel that love still flowing in me, quiet and constant, clear and bright and sweet like spring water, always there for him, love only for him, to drink from my lips.
I wish he wanted it.
Nevertheless, it is there for him.