Mortality, Mozart, and Madness

“That it will never come again
is what makes life so sweet.”
–Emily Dickinson

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times from September 17, 2011

“Propelled by an increase in prescription narcotic overdoses, drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the United States, a Times analysis of government data has found.

Drugs exceeded motor vehicle accidents as a cause of death in 2009, killing at least 37,485 people nationwide, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Yesterday, a person I worked with added to this somber statistic for THIS year. A young man, approaching thirty years old, married with two children, the youngest at age 2, died when a combination of drugs he ingested made it impossible for his life to continue. Regardless of the circumstances that led to this disastrous result, and in spite of all the efforts by those who tried to persuade him to quit, including his own self-admission to rehab and abandonment of drugs in the years before starting his family, yesterday, something went terribly wrong.

Less than a week ago, after not seeing each other in a while, we both happened to meet in a local restaurant on the weekend, and I held him in my arms, embracing upon first recognition, talking and carrying on like men sometimes do, joking about the boss and all the company gossip. He had started a new job and talked enthusiastically about how great it was and by all accounts, he seemed upbeat and alert. No sign of anything amiss.

My heart sank as the realization sank in. There would be no more chance meetings, and for him, there would be no chance to start again. Now, the only act of friendship I have left to show him will be to share in the grief and attend his final arrangements.

This morning though, driving to work to cover the shift for the boss for a few hours, I turned on the radio in the car for the twenty minute drive, just as the announcer introduced several selections about to play in honor of Mozart’s birthday. Already a huge fan of the composer, my melancholy mood seemed to lift a bit as the familiar notes from music he composed in Vienna about 230 years ago issued forth from the front and rear speakers in the station wagon. It was overcast and drizzling outside, but it almost felt like a break in the clouds within me.

According to Robert Cummings, in the All Music Guide:

“Mozart’s best music has a natural flow and irresistible charm, and can express humor, joy or sorrow with both conviction and mastery. Mozart was the last of seven children, of whom five did not survive early childhood. By the age of three he was playing the clavichord, and at four he began writing short compositions. Young Wolfgang gave his first public performance at the age of five at Salzburg University. He developed a fever of unknown origin and died near the end of 1791. (age 35)

Mulling over the tragic loss of a musical genius with so much more to live for, and contemplating the stark differences and deficits of the temporal world at the time of Mozart which prevented his siblings from surviving their youth, I find a whirlwind of thoughts starting to unfold and unravel in my mind. Are we doing any better in the 21st century?

In some ways, some aspects of our lives in the 21st century are more convenient and flexible, expanding our abilities to communicate with even some of the remotest areas of the world, providing numerous advantages in superior medical and scientific endeavors, while at the same time, not necessarily resulting in any clear, commensurate alteration in fundamental human nature. We sometimes seem to apply this new technology to many of the same primitive urgings and ancient mindsets that continue to endanger the very survival of the human species.

The study of human consciousness (and the resulting focus of my writing) has given me a sense of both the astonishing potential inherent in its profoundly affective nature within me, as well as the deeply mysterious and wondrous capabilities it provides to all of humanity. I disagree with James Hillman in his claim that “the psyche, (is) the soul” and that “psychotherapy is only working on that ‘inside’ soul.” It’s not all of us that have this wrong somehow. In my view, our souls are integrated with our mind and consciousness, and it’s our brains that are inside of us. We have to integrate them all into some sort of balancing act, and when something goes wrong…it can unravel completely, and when something goes right, it can produce genius.

…..more to come….

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4 comments

  1. jjhiii24

    It is sad, actually, but I can’t help feeling so strongly the desire to find a way of showing those affected, including myself, that even though it is tragic in clear ways, that each of us can eventually recognize the larger view, which includes the benefits we gain by letting go of sadness, as we are able, and resolving to search for ways to honor the value of our own lives, rather than dwell too long on what has been lost. It is much easier to say than it is to do, I know, but we must try.

  2. patricemj

    Yes, letting go of sadness is difficult, and mysterious. I don’t know if it can be rushed, the chemistry of grief seems to be that we require it for our eventual release from it. If that makes any sense. I’ve been noticing lately how my own grief has been transforming in ways unimaginable. It is a relief and sometimes i wonder if I am only deluding myself, but I try not to host my doubt alone. It is necessary, this doubt, but it is not the only voice at the table. For so long it seemed it was.

  3. jjhiii24

    I am frequently encouraged by your willingness to acknowledge your uncertainty about the important ideas you are examining, while at the same time, admiring your tenacity and courage in asserting what you genuinely feel needs to be said about them.

    We absolutely must not relinquish our doubts completely. nor allow them to persuade us beyond reason, but by including other voices at the table, we ensure that we do not delude ourselves completely either in favor or in opposition to them.

    I agree that engaging our grief is a necessary component of our ability to move past it eventually, and that it cannot be reduced to a particular time scale in any clear way. Each of us relinquishes our sadness in our own time, and while we may not completely recover our former balance in precisely the same configuration it once was, we often find that all progress in our lives comes at a price of some sort; whether we view the new balance as an improvement or not is strictly up to us.

    Thank you so much for your kindness in pointing this out……..John H.

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