Thursday, December 28, 2017

Una voce poco fa

It is almost the end of another day and almost the end of another year.  It is natural that one should reflect upon the past both proximate and more distant. Particularly so when today - which was appropriately grey, cold and forbidding - I've submerged myself in historical imperatives; viz.,  E. F. Benson's "Queen Lucia" (1920), Rossini's "Il barbiere di Siviglia" (1816) and a movie set in the early 1950s called "Carol" (2015) starring Cate Blanchett (a film which revived in particular my memory of the Drake Hotel in Chicago). The movie is a twist upon the seasonal tradition of Alastair Sim's performance (1951) as Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (1843).

Preparing for the New Year is a welcome ablution for heathens. I've adopted the ceremony more eagerly than the Christian alternative because I always fail to distance myself from the blatant greediness and bounty of Christmas which interestingly has its roots in the celebration of plenty wrought by the fear of darkness and deprivation inherent in the Winter Solstice when for example animals were slaughtered because there would be no food to sustain them otherwise. It is easy to jump from this profusion and indulgence to the complementary wretchedness and sobriety after which the catharsis of change is a welcome relief. No one likes to let go of the past without at least a reminiscence combined usually with an assessment.  In the best of circumstances there is a provocation to do better, to rise above whatever it is we're letting go.

Admittedly there is resistance to embrace novelty, first because it's preposterous, second because we've proven so often that change is never so dramatic as to be perceptible (except perhaps when it is for the worse which naturally misses the point of better things to come and is therefore negligible for our present purposes). Nonetheless I am satisfied to recapitulate if for no other reason than to reckon with my past, something I frequently disregard in the flurry of the moment. There is some strength to observe that the past is irrelevant at least based on logic; namely, that it cannot be altered.  But it may admit to interpretation and I believe there is value in analysis - even comic respite!

My greater ambition however is to quell the anxiety surrounding the voices from my past, whether yesterday, a year ago or from my youth. As improbable as the existence of the past may be its extension is inescapable. It would be too strong to say I am haunted by the past but certainly I have an eye on it from time to time even though largely neglectful.  Given a moment's absorption the past fosters sometimes peculiar insights, like peeking around a door and revealing a discovery.  Casting our lives in the context of literature, music or drama is a helpful exemplification.  It gives us distance to observe without the overwhelming complication of participation.  How strange it would be to see a movie of our lives projected on a screen before us, eclipsed by time, snippets of experiences and emotions, blurs of conduct and comments, racing events and moments.  How fast it would all appear then disappear!  How quickly it all transforms!  The only constant would be oneself.  How futile it is to clutch at the straws in the wind! But we cannot ignore a whisper from without.

Nor should we.  I suspect that any one of us has tried to do one's best, to accomplish things of value, to contribute, to improve. Compared to the glare of celebrity our own small efforts may seem trifling. Yet there are those who have been blessed with success and achievement, who by human standards have climbed to the pinnacle of fulfillment. But everyone of us has a fascinating story to account. The theses of meaning in life very often have their foundation in the simplest of themes, the universal stories.  While we mustn't allow ourselves to be burdened by the past, nor should we seek to dissolve every particle of its tincture.

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