Tied Up to the Ground

Four floors below me in the hospital courtyard, a concert is tuning up. I am told it is a quartet, though I consider a flute an unusual element if it is indeed limited to four instruments.

I once played the flute. It’s been twenty one years since I played the flute in a musical production. Why do I still own that flute?

Anyway, this quartet–or ensemble of some kind–has begun delivering its prepared pieces. A low thrum from a string bass or cello is at least audible beneath the hoofbeating sound of my baby’s heart rate monitor. I occasionally catch the sweet peals of a violin, though something still sounding like a flute meets my ears with dreadful effect. It doesn’t belong. Perhaps down at ground level it is tempered by the stringed instruments, but when unfettered, it travels wildly beyond the reach of its stringed friends and lands at my window looking for a melody.

Somewhere below, the music is still beautiful. Not far from me the music draws its audience in and rewards them with an acoustic treat. But for now, I am outside the desired effect.

It sometimes feels like the world is made up more by the things that divide us than the things that draw us together. Over the years, I have sought to become more informed on topics such as end-of-life options, abortion, withdrawal of medical interventions, suicide prevention, and organ donation. I often take the perspective I gained as a nurse, which helps me see both sides where these topics become divisive.

I have found that the mixture of voices, from those promoting to those condemning some aspect of society, are a lot like the ensemble down below. If you remain aloof, distant from the heart of the people whose voices you hear, you may be lucky to catch a steady beat or an incongruous melody. Both could help you confirm what you already believe: you belong in the conversation while the other does not.

But I believe that were I to unfetter myself long enough to listen closely at the source of this musical production, I would recognize the beauty of these instruments blending together, complementing one another in the draw and pull of their individual voices. But if I remain here and resent the voice that doesn’t seem to belong, I will never know the beauty of collaboration, the relatability of a story I have not yet opened my ears to.

I cannot go join them, but I will disconnect from my primary concern for a moment in case it will allow me to catch a glimpse of the ensemble through the window. That flute has rejoined the doleful strings, and I want to know what it has to say.

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So I was right. There is a flute. But I was also wrong. I see no violin, no string bass, and no cello. The microphone on the far left faces an instrument hidden from my view. Perhaps it is the source of the steady beat I hear. Sometimes the voice least noticed, the one that changes least, is the one most needed to hold the ensemble together.

I may be tied up. I may be away from the madding crowd, but I know each voice reaches my ears when I tune into its quality instead of argue against its presence. For now I may not understand what it is all these voices accomplish, but I am grateful to have them so near.

[The title comes from a “hey, there’s a flute in there” song: El Condor Pasa, another Simon and Garfunkel favorite. It was either that or I had to delve into a memory from 20 years ago when my friend from Poland lived with us and turned me on to Jethro Tull. Though if youtube had existed back then, I think I would have been promptly turned off.]

Added May 25: it appears I was not the only one thinking about Jethro Tull.

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Spotted during a traffic jam en route to hospital

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