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Post details: Resonances of Life

Resonances of Life

It was one of the sharpest Sunday mornings I have ever seen. A crisp image on a frosted windowpane rendered with the cool precision that only early Winter can conjure up: a spire of a small whitewashed church on a hill aspiring to pierce the sky, gray cloud monkeys sliding down the invisible poles into the frozen puddles of dawn, and most importantly the Sun floating low over the ice creamy horizon like a frozen strawberry - a snout of a polar bear nudging its cubs from their slumbering malaise. The nearly complete silence was barely interrupted by a low drone of empty public buses, whose confused engines reverberated between the locked warehouses and closed manufacturing plants of Prague's periphery. It sounded like somewhere in the distance melancholy was brushing its teeth with a soft metallic brush. A deserted public park embraced its cold knees as invisible talons of time pounced through the thin air and came up empty handed each time - as if yesterday had long gone, but today hadn't arrived yet.

One of my Czech friends lives in a condo situated in an unfancied industrial district of Sporilov on the southern edge of Prague. It was on this Sunday that I left her building and walked towards the subway station, so I could catch a train to my hometown, where I was expected for lunch. A few days ago, Magdalena Kozena was singing Bach's "Erbarme Dich" on the Czech TV and as I walked through the stern concrete landscape of the unimaginative communist architecture, I suddenly remembered the bittersweet warmth of her performance. A curious motley mixture of sound bites, visual impressions and memories started tumbling in my brain, like unsorted socks in a running dryer. Maybe it was set into motion by nostalgia that I won't see my friend again for a couple of months, or that my vacation was drawing to an end. Whatever the case might have been - the resulting mental collage was breathtaking.

There are many aspects to life, but three important ingredients in our perception soup stand above others: the visual imagery, the immediate sensory input from our eyes; the music, which our memory sometimes plays on the background like a soundtrack; and the context of our life, the grab-bag of our recent memories and experiences. These elements alone, each in its own right, can pack a pretty good punch. But when we catch them riding on the same wavelength, they burst into a powerful resonance. Together, as a whole, they become much more than just the sum of the individual components. For one fleeting moment, they provide new and deeper perspective on life. They reveal both its grandeur and its futility.

First I noticed this phenomenon in my early twenties. At that tender age when shapes of opinions and attitudes formed in the nourishing chowder of the childhood start solidifying. I was gazing out of the windows of my parent's apartment towards a large factory behind the railway tracks. Its tall stack chimney was spewing swells of smoke, sending them horizontally across an overcast sky. My turntable was playing the first movement of Mahler's 9th and that simple image of a billowing man-made stalactite juxtaposed against Mahler's complex musical maze morphed into an instantaneous personal revelation. This was the first time it dawned on me that life was not going to be as trivial as it seemed up to that point, that it was a much more profound experience than any kid or even a teenager could ever imagine.

Admittedly, these resonances are fairly rare, but if your memory can play music well, you may encounter them often enough - perhaps a couple of times per year - depending on how colorful your life is. I remember coming home from some watering hole in Adams Morgan recently, and the whole complex where I live was submerged in a thick layer of warm fog, its street lights diluted by myriad of tiny soap bubbles. On the inside, there was some fog, too - I could feel each and every neuron of my sensory backroads wrapped in a gauzy sheath of fine inebriation. The alcohol content swimming in my bloodstream combined with the bagpipes from Mike Oldfield's Ommadawn and converted the surreal scenery into a pastel toned movie that flowed out of my blurred subconsciousness like a thick blood of a wounded Scottish warrior. I wish I could have submitted that movie for Oscars. It should have gotten at least one for visual effects and maybe a nomination for cinematography.

Another resonance happened on my recent return trip from Europe. We flew over Newfoundland, a rugged piece of land whose implacable mountains viewed from 37,000 feet underlined amazingly well the esoteric message of Brucker's 5th Symphony. That was one of the best musical meals ever served on an onboard stereo programme: timeless wisdom of a half-forgotten Austrian master projected onto flawless pastures of heavenly lambs. And that little crumb of soil below them - our stunning planet.

These are the moments when I wish I could hit the pause button. Moments when an unexpected resonance sparks the flash of cognitive lightning and illuminates the night sky of my understanding. Moments when the three elements conspire to create a perfect storm of beauty.

lightning

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