After work tonight, exhausted but grateful for the opportunity to work, I slipped a classical music CD into the player and slowly pulled out of the parking lot. Since I have only recently begun working on the overnight shift, I have struggled to adjust to the hours which have me traveling to work when most people are getting ready for bed, and getting ready for bed when most people are just getting ready to travel to work. It’s an odd reverse-juxtaposition of several key components of a daily routine that most people take for granted.
As I entered the main highway, the Ninth Variation of Elgar’s epic work, VARIATIONS ON AN ORIGINAL THEME (Enigma), op 36 – entitled “Nimrod” began to reverberate through the stillness of a nearly empty late-night highway run. As the music swirled around me and built momentum toward the climax, for some reason, I was reminded of the moment when I first saw my son as he stepped onto American soil at Pope AFB in Fayetteville, NC after his second tour as a soldier in Iraq.
With about three hundred other people waiting to greet their own returning soldier, I stood out on the tarmac as the military transport’s wheels touched the ground, and a deafening cheer rose from the crowd. Through a blur of tears, we all watched and cheered as the soldiers started down the steps, once again setting foot in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
When the soldiers were dismissed, we scrambled through the maze of armed men, struggling to be polite as we nudged past the swarming friends and families, all on the same mission.
When I finally reached my son, I couldn’t contain myself any longer, and a flood of joy, love, and relief flowed out of me like a tidal wave. I grabbed him and held him so tightly, that the contours of his weapon, slung across the front of his body, left an impression on us both.
I found it impossible to let go of him for several minutes. My heart had ached for that moment for so long, that it took a few minutes to convince myself I was actually holding him in my arms! After some nervous laughter and gathering of wits, we both walked around meeting some of the other men from his unit, and posed out in front for the family.
The connection to Elgar’s music escaped me until I did an internet search about the Enigma Variations.
“The story is told of how Elgar, returning home from giving violin lessons, sat down at the piano and, to unwind, began improvising. . Out of that spontaneous exchange grew the idea of the Enigma Variations, the work that finally secured Elgar’s reputation as a composer of national, even international, standing. It remains one of the most popular works in the classical repertoire.”
In particular, the Ninth Variation, called “Nimrod,” was described as follows:
“A J Jaeger, Elgar’s great friend whose encouragement did much to keep Elgar going during the period when he was struggling to secure a lasting reputation – the variation allegedly captures a discussion between them on Beethoven’s slow movements.”
Later that night, standing out on the balcony at his apartment, I once again held my son in my arms, and said a silent prayer of thanksgiving, thinking with profound sadness of the thousands of parents who lost their loved ones in the war, realizing that it was a very thin line separating me from all of those parents who could no longer have that experience.
Each life brought forth into the world as a result of our love for each other, like the ripples which result when you cast a stone into still waters, produces waves of love through the years that follow, and is an affirmation of the love which produced each of us.
As any parent who loves their children knows, each new generation is not simply a continuation of our love, but a magnification and an altered extension of our love, into a future which we, ourselves, may only catch a glimpse, before we return to the source of all life.
My love for my son, and the enormous encouragement I received from my family and friends during his three deployments, helped me to “keep myself going” during those difficult years.