When there is nothing

I have this desire to write on my blog this morning, but I’ve just sat here watching the cursor blink, as if I am watching its heart beat. It is waiting for me while I wait for something to arise beside just this desire. When there is nothing to write there is always a feeling of a hole in my soul. If there is nothing, am I nothing? And if I am nothing, is that okay? Such an existential morning.

Yet when I wished my friend happy birthday just now, something did arise. I couldn’t help remembering one of those unexpected pilgrimages with her to Verona in 2006. The first night, the cobblestones were still wet and glistening from rain as we walked to clear our heads of the long flight. Spring had come late to Verona that year, and yet while the trees were still black and bare, the grass was green and flowering bushes were shouting out colors of pink and yellow. I was letting my soul catch up with me after 30 hours in the air, taking in the ochre colored buildings, the ornate wooden doors that opened to intriguing courtyards, the shop windows gorged with pastries and cakes, the other pedestrians dressed mostly in black, with scarves and red hair and shoes not seen in Alaska.

We were near to Fiume Adige, the river that horseshoes through the town, when I heard the sound of a clarinet playing an alluring song. I struggled to remember its name. An old song. And then yes, La Vie en rose. Like a siren, the notes wrapped around me and lured me toward the source. Turning a corner, I saw him in moonlight. He was alone, on the bridge over the Adige, looking down at the water– a dark, curly-haired younger man in a black leather coat, hunched over his clarinet, moving slightly up and down with the music. There was no one else on the ponte but he and the music and his desire to play it into the night. It was my official welcome to the city of Love.

La Vie en rose literally means “life in the pink” but can also be translated as “life in rosy hues”, “life in happy hues,” or “life seen through happy lenses.” Written in 1945, the lyrics express the joy of finding true love, probably a song that worked also as an antidote to all those healing from the horrors and hatred of World War II. The lyrics don’t appeal to me as much as the music itself–especially with violin, cello or clarinet. (and maybe Louis Armstrong on trumpet). It feels like a sweep of the deepest desire of all humanity, to be carried away with the beauty of this life. To play to the river and have it blush, to let the notes wind around golden and shining in dark streets looking for a lover, to entice the heartbroken back to dancing, to give the hopeless the reason to keep on. Or for me to recognize that I am that music.

As the days grow shorter and shorter and darkness comes early and stays late, as the pandemic shutters me away from life outside my home, and the stories of such suffering come sifting through the news, I am listening to La Vie en rose as I write. The music doesn’t erase the realities around me, but gently reminds that life is this as well, “life in happy hues.”

Even when it seems there is nothing, the words are just waiting.

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