The events in Japan still dismay me, and there’s no comfort to be found. I keep thinking of the scene in the Star Wars movie, where the Deathstar has obliterated an entire planet. Obi-Wan Kenobi says to Luke, “I feel a great disturbance in The Force.”
That’s it exactly. I feel a great disturbance. I feel unsettled, ungrounded, unsure of my footing. Maybe it’s the result of the earthquake shifting the earth’s axis four inches. Maybe the magnetic fields surrounding the earth have also shifted, upsetting some internal, subliminal orientation to gravity. Maybe it’s the sudden unbalancing of the floating islands of rock on which we live that makes me feel that I am walking aslant, groping my way through some twisted funhouse corridor. But there’s no sure footing, no sense of certainty that one day leads to another, no continuity of one moment to the next. There are only images of water: water scouring the land, water obliterating thousands of lives in an instant.
My dreams, when I can sleep, are of water. Vast lakes that I must swim across. Land that looks solid and substantial from my watery vantage point, but which evaporates to a narrow spit, with even vaster distances of water on the other side, once I crawl onto the shore. There is a road, but it is blocked, and I have no car. There is only more swimming if I am to reach safety.
What do I have in this day, in this moment of floating suspended between realities? I have practice. Despite my heavy heart, my fingers find their places on the strings. The tones of a dorian scale enter my chest as fingers pluck one note at a time, seeking a gentle warm-up on an ungentle day. Fingers close gratefully into palms, finding a pattern of movement that feels familiar. Shoulders shift, relax, allow breath and full exhalations.
There is a story in my head, a different story than the one I’ve been seeing these past three days, a story that unfolded one night for Grandjany’s Nocturne, when I let the music carry me somewhere far from my practice room. I can enter this story for a time, can hear the peal of evening bells echoing over the countryside, can hear the lilt and laughter of people returning from cultivated fields through city gates now closing against the dangers of the night. My heavy heart still feels battered within my chest, but there is something else there as well, some moment out of time where life is being lived and savored, where people will sleep safe and unharmed behind stout walls.
The piece ends, and I am back on my harp bench, back in this day, this lifetime. There is still no comfort, but there is grace: the grace of this routine, of the decision, already made and non-negotiable, that I will sit on my harp bench this afternoon, that I will pull my harp to my shoulder, that my fingers will look for beauty, or joy, or peace among the strings, that although it is a song of loss and longing, my heart will sing.