About a year ago, shortly after my wife and I separated, I felt hopeless. I had felt hopeless for the last couple of years that we were together, too — and getting out on my own was a bit of a relief from that despair, but somehow finally making the break and living alone underscored my lack of meaning. I planned to drag my wretched corpse through the rest of my life and breathe a sigh of relief when death should come. Everything I had ever enjoyed in life seemed embittered by my failure in family life — a failure that proceeded not from random circumstance, but rather from deep flaws in my own character. That’s not to say that only I was to blame. But I allowed others to take me places I had no business going nor any power to sustain. What an idiot I had been. For how long!
I took one vehicle, she kept the other. She gave me all of “my” CDs — the definition of “my” being anything that she didn’t want. She kept my Grateful Dead, Cars, and U2. She gave me all the ones that we had not played since we got together — a small but significant indicator of the sickness of our relationship. She had always controlled what we listened to or watched on TV. Oh, I was free to enjoy whatever I pleased, as long as I didn’t mind being left alone to my depraved enjoyment of football, Jethro Tull, or Mahler. Because I did love her, I preferred to forego these other pleasures in order to enjoy her company. But that did not help to preserve our relationship after all.
Thus, I began to rediscover my old CDs that I hadn’t heard in 15 years. When my wife and I first got together, I had been listening to Joe Satriani’s “Time Machine” frequently, and I remember that the sustained note at the end of the primary theme in “Flying in a Blue Dream” seemed to ask me a question about my decision to move in with her. Now, after fifteen years, it was asking me that question again. I never realized that the muffled narrative at the beginning of that song says “sometimes they act like they still like each other, and sometimes they don’t.”
I discussed this new appreciation of music with my therapist, and noted that especially music without lyrics seemed able to speak to me in ways that nothing else could. I’m sure it has something to do with going beyond language to unlock the thoughts and hopes that I’ve managed to talk myself out of. I said to her that I had a couple of Bruckner symphonies still to rediscover (the 4th and 7th), but that I wished I had the 8th and 9th instead (which I once owned on vinyl) because they both seemed in my memory to ask questions without providing answers.
Nevertheless, I popped Bruckner’s Fourth into my car’s CD player. I didn’t remember much about that symphony. I hadn’t listened to it in about twenty years, because it didn’t seem to fit my state of mind back in the early nineties after leaving my first wife (yes, there’s a pattern here). When I had listened to it before, my first wife insisted that I keep the volume down because (like all of Bruckner’s symphonies) it gets loud in places. So the piece contains much that I had never heard, or only heard subliminally.
The fourth and final movement grabbed my attention. Its phrenetic shifts in tempo and volume convey an almost insane anger alternating with flights of grandeur that suddenly collapse like bipolar delusions. Eventually, the movement settles into a dark and hopeless theme that might be a funeral march. A beautifully sorrowful lament follows, but then melts back into the hopeless, resignedly angry repetition of the funeral theme.
“This is where I am,” I thought to myself. “This music speaks to me.”
The theme repeats, growing more emphatic. Suddenly, briefly, a major chord shines out. “What was that?” I thought.
Then, like a seed planted, that major chord begins a series that builds on all that has gone before, step by step. Unlike the earlier delusions of grandeur, these steps are gradual and believable. I could almost remember some of them before they happened, but still I would ask myself, “Can it really be?” and then find “It is!” This continues to a most glorious ending, as the tears streamed down my face.
“If such a thing can even exist in music, then perhaps there is hope.”
This was the first step.