Anything can trigger a deep memory. I still remember the song that was playing when I kissed my first love; I know exactly where I was — and who I was with — when I first heard the Moody Blues.. A beautiful piece of music can take you far, far away … so far, in fact, that you actually leave time and space.
Russian music also transports me to another place and time. I recently heard pieces of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, which was written in 1939-1940 for the starving people of Leningrad (today known as the city of St. Petersburg), his birthplace. As I listened, I could hear his sorrow and see the German Army marching in to take the city. Shostakovich wrote the symphony as a symbol of resistance to the totalitarian regimes of both Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, and did so, amazingly, without anyone to play it. Stalin killed so many of his own people, musicians had to be recruited door to door with the promise of extra rations to form the orchestra. Many years later, German soldiers who heard the Seventh Symphony in the trenches on the night it was played, said they knew in that moment they would never defeat the Russians — ever. The music was that powerful.
As I listened, I thought about Germany, Check Point Charlie, and my travels through East Berlin. I can still smell the old bus seats as we sat quietly, scared of the grey-haired, grim-faced tour guide who commanded us to be serious. I didn’t understand what she meant until we passed the plain white, military block-style buildings, one after the other, crumbling from lack of care, and an equally frightening lack of people.Where are the people? I thought to myself. Were they dead? Were they hiding? To this day, my stomach still feels sick when I think about Berlin. I cried many years later when the wall came down, and I still will, if I let my mind wander there.
I’ve traveled on planes, trains and automobiles in and around Europe since. There is not a train I have been on where I don’t see my daughter, tall, tan and strong, coming through the doors of the train in Cannes, France, carrying a 50-pound backpack. She had been traveling a month before I met her at the station, and although 30 days seem to move as quickly as my passing birthdays now, I prayed for her every one of those days back then — her safety, her happiness and her homecoming. I still do.
By the time this is published, she will be on a new journey to Colorado, where one of my beloved twin sons already lives. My last twin at home will be starting a new job in Chicago. Although I am a reluctant but eager empty nester, I feel myself now “cleaning out my closets” in search of new adventure. I will expand my world, build a few bridges, hike un-hiked canyons and create moments which live beyond me. I’ll go by plane, a train … or maybe take a slow stroll through my brain. It doesn’t matter, just as long as I go and keep taking time to make time disappear.