So tonight, thanks to extreme parental generosity, I got to see Nikolai Lugansky and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic play Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which was, as might be expected, superb. But listening to it was somewhat double-edged: as happens often with pieces I remember/know very well, I cannot help but think of my father.

My father died when I was 12, and whether intentional or accidental, I have a great deal of difficulty consciously recalling anything of my life with him. There are snippets and scenes here and there, but I cannot remember anything specific or tangible or real about what he or I were like. The clearest memory I yet retain is some nondescript Sunday morning, with Dad lying in bed and watching the Niners play, while my brother and I ran pass patterns around his bedroom as he tossed a Nerf football to us. And even that seems indistinct and cloudy to me. Most of what I know of him is what others have told me about him, which is obviously not the best means of getting an accurate picture of someone who has passed away.

But when I hear something like the symphony tonight, which followed Rachmaninov with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, even though I haven’t listened to the second piece in what is probably decades, I recognize emotions in myself resonating. Nothing tangible, and so ephemeral that if I focus on them I feel they will effervesce away, but I know I’m feeling not just the passion of the music, but the pull of the past. At times it’s so melancholy and nostalgic that it’s almost unbearable, but it’s also when I feel closer to my father than I ever have.

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4 Responses to Joy

  1. UT says:

    One of the problems with written communication is that often important nuance is lost. If I’ve misread your post, my apologies.

    Psychologists have shown that our memories are notoriously inaccurate, easily distorted, and likely colored by whatever shade of tinted glasses we happen to be wearing at the time.

    So how does one get an “accurate” picture of anything? I think accuracy is exactly like truth, i.e. in the eye of the beholder. We all, through whatever means and machinations we go through, explore and create our own truth. We then go forth and experience our lives based said truths. Ditto how we form “accurate” memories of some one, some thing, some event, etc.

    As such, to the idea that we live our own lies, I say, screw it. It’s what every single one of us does. It’s all we can do. It’s the best we can do. It’s inevitable. To me, the challenge is not accurate memories. To me, the challenge is, how did those memories and experiences shape us? How have we “responded” to those memories, both good and bad?

    In this digital age, precise, virtual memories are increasingly becoming possible. On NPR, I’ve heard some suggest that this is one of the values of blogging and other forms of digital archiving. But I’ve heard others argue that “accurate” memories are not what’s important. If we remember an event in a certain way, which then has a certain affect on our life, isn’t that what’s really important? While in theory, as in science, we could/should revise our conclusions when new, contradictory data becomes available, does this apply to people and our past memories?

    We are both emotional and rational creatures. I believe that we are far more emotionally driven than we suspect, using our intellect to rationalize/justify our emotional reactions. Most if not all important memories have strong emotional content and overlays to them. Emotion is what gives life meaning, something that pure reasoning and rational thought cannot. When I experience melancholic memories as you described, I try to cherish those moments. While I may be sad at the loss, I’m happy to have had the pleasure of the experience. I also feel profound gratitude for having had the experience, to have been touched by it. Such melancholy, as painful as it may be, is also moving, and an important reminder of what it is to be truly and fully emotionally alive.

  2. UT says:

    P.S. What a beautiful, eloquent memory of your Dad. I think of him often. I don’t need to detail what an intellectual he was. Suffice to say, he had a big impact on me too.

  3. kulagirl says:

    I miss him too. Music that we shared often instantly brings tears to my eyes.

  4. Oma says:

    Dear Michael,

    Uncle Thomas showed me your blog. I’m finding it very interesting.



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