Daylight came on a cloudy morning this past winter. I sat at my desk by the fireplace with a headset on, listening to Keith Jarrett’s Bridge of Light for Viola and Orchestra, and remembered why it was such a lifesaver to me several years ago.
During a minor illness, I was prescribed a medication for which my body developed an instantaneous dislike. The result wasn’t the usual allergic response which I have to penicillin or sulfa drugs, that is, a comically swollen face, lips that look like a collagen injection run amok, red dots on the upper palate, and a feeling that some invisible hand is choking me for past misdeeds.
No, this reaction was different, but in its own way more terrifying, since Benedryl or epinephrine was no help. I took this medication at bedtime. It worsened the headache it was prescribed to help. That night, my dreams, twilight images and wakeful states became a nightmare ride, and for the first and only time in my life, I felt an actual sense of doom, and feared I would not live through the night.
STRANGELY, I NEVER GOT OUT OF BED. Who knows? Maybe milk and cookies would have helped. I was too much a prisoner of my own head at that moment to do something so sensible.
Ever since September 11, I have kept a tiny radio tuned to NPR on my bedside table. For months, I would listen to it several times during the night to check on the state of the world. Now that music has returned to the middle of the night on NPR, I still listen sometimes when sleep is stubbornly elusive.
That awful night, I reached for the ear buds in hopes that music would bring comfort.
And I was handed a bridge back to light. I am listening as I type, with grateful tears of remembrance. The first bars, the theme, changed a channel in my brain. The message was: “You are fine. You have many years. Work to do. Love. Especially love.” The headache became inconsequential, faded, my blood pressure went back to normal, that awful feeling of doom was gone. At the end of the piece, when the well-modulated low voice told me the name of the composition, I smiled, thinking, Of course it is. It sure is for me. Thank you, Keith Jarrett. Thank you NPR for playing this just in my moment of need.
I wasn’t familiar with Keith Jarrett’s work. Still not, except for this one composition. Track 8, about 17 minutes long, is the one that was played that night. The next morning, I located a CD and ordered it. Listen to it sometime if you can.
The composer’s own words about his composition were a message to me as well.
“. . . these pieces were born of a desire to praise and contemplate rather than a desire to ‘make’ or ‘show’ or ‘demonstrate’ something unique. They are, in a certain way, prayers that beauty may remain perceptible despite fashions, intellect, analysis, progress, technology, distractions, ‘burning issues’ of the day, the un-hipness of belief or faith, concert programming, and the unnatural ‘scene’ of ‘art’, the market, lifestyles, etc. etc., etc. I am not attempting to be ‘clever’ in these pieces (or in these notes). I am not attempting to be a composer. I am trying to reveal a state I think is missing in today’s world (except, perhaps, in private): a certain state of surrender: surrender to an ongoing harmony in the universe that exists with or without us. Let us let it in.”