The orchestra pit was your favourite spot at a symphony concert. You were in awe when the musicians started to tune their different instruments. It sounded quite chaotic at first. Once it was done, harmony was the inevitable result. When you practised playing your classical guitar, you used your tuning fork and accustomed the different strings according to its sound. I noticed that with the increasing loss of your hearing, you seldom used it anymore. Now your tuning fork is lying unused on your desk. It does not vibrate anymore because nobody is striking it. Your death has ruined our harmony.
What is the name of my favourite violin concerto, André? I would hum the tune for you and you would search through your music list until I said: “Yes, that’s the one.” Today I searched for it under popular violin music, but Mr Google could not find it for me. Eventually I plugged in the hard drive of my laptop and searched under your music list. There it was. The violin concerto of Bruch. It plugs into the intensity of my emotions. I play it as loud as the boom box is able to and combine my weeping with that of the violin. I have lost the tune of our harmony. I do not know how to string my being to the tuning fork as a widow.
During an extremely difficult season of our lives, when three generations under one roof journeyed with depression as illness, I developed a saying that often rescued me from misery. “I can arrange my day in such a way, that most of my needs can be met.” For context: my mother-in-law lived with us for ten years. I will always honour her for the fact that she singlehandedly developed all the fruits of the Holy Spirit in me. I was often faced with scenarios where the only thing I could change was my attitude. To mourn your death is very hard work. I need to practically arrange my day according to the level of my emotional energy. This requires me to be in touch with myself. To wipe the dust of your death off the meter of my emotional tank and gauge the level my energy is at. It requires self-discipline to honour that meter reading. Some days that might mean I need to cancel an appointment because my tank is running on empty and I have nothing to give.
I learned such a valuable lesson from playing Tetris. When you get the options of a block to place, you need to position it in the space where it will make the biggest difference. Just one single block can complete a whole section and make it ‘disappear’. The game ends with a notice that appears on the screen: “No more valid moves.” That is so true. Your death is irreversible and final. You are irreplaceable. There are no ‘moves’ I can make that will fill the empty space where you used to be. I need to give myself permission to sound my tuning fork and hear it resonate in my soul. Then I need to follow the prescription that my soul writes. Some days that might mean that I do not have the energy to write a blog. I need to give myself permission to have no words. To just be silent.
I took Biscuit to the vet. He gave him an injection for the eczema and said that I do not need to apply any ointment anymore. The injection will heal the wound. There is no quick fix like that injection for me. I will need to lick the raw wound of your death for a while longer. Today I deleted Tetris from my phone. I do not need its distraction anymore. There are pauses in any piece of music, especially before a next movement begins. Your death has paused the music in our lives. Your guitar is quiet and we have lost our tune. You were the one who knew how to use the tuning fork. We each have to learn to find our tune now. The music will sound different than it did when you were part of our orchestra as a family. Job 30:31 “My harp is turned to mourning. And my flute to the sound of those who weep.”
I remember a story from a chapter in a book by Howard Clinebell that your pastoral care students had to read. It is called ‘Making music with whatever you have left’. On the 18th of November 1995, Itzhak Perlman gave a concert at the Lincoln Centre in New York City. As he finished the first few bars of the music there was a loud snap, letting everyone in the hall know that one of the violin’s strings had broken. He paused a few moments, closed his eyes and then signalled to the conductor to begin again. His music was filled with more power, passion and purity than people had heard from him before as he changed and recomposed the piece in his head. When he finished there was awesome silence before the audience stood as they clapped, cheered and shouted their appreciation. He smiled, wiped sweat from his forehead, and raised his bow to quiet the crowd. Then he said, in a quiet, pensive tone, “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
Lord God, help us to make music with the strings we have left. We look at You to be our tuning fork. May the grace of your presence in our pain birth new vibrations to our souls in our sorrow. And, in time, give us a new melody to which to tune our instruments.