Sunday, December 06, 2009

PSO: Relections on Death

[This post is originally published at Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra: Outside Perspectives]

At the beginning of Mozart's Requiem the Pittsburgh Symphony put a commentary noting that while Death was no stranger to Mozart's life, in modern U.S. society we have tried our hardest to make it a stranger to ours.  And I am not an exception.  While I have deployed to war, have been an volunteer EMT, regularly respond to fires and other disasters and take part in activities that entail some degree of risk, like the veteran cop who has never fired his service weapon in anger, I have not had anyone die on me (not for lack of some people trying).  So in a sense, I do not know how I will respond (but a line of counsellors are ready to talk to me when it does.)  And in my professional life, I regularly am faced with the fact that while society may cry out that it values life above all else, and that it refuses to put a price or limit on how much it would pay to keep life, that society indeed does put a price on life, and reacts badly when this is pointed out.

There is a community that does face its own mortality.  And is willing to write about it.  I follow the writing of blogs of soldiers and others involved in our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on The Sandbox, a project of Gary Trudeau (Doonesbury).  Along with commentary about the absurd in daily life that is common to every first person account of war there are essays on fears, humor, relief, anguish, and sometimes the understanding that this is a serious business that can result in death.

And occasionally there is an essay by someone who has, like Mozart, prepared for his own mortality.  The willingness to acknowledge who you were.  Realising that you had long passed the point where dreams were there for you to reach, but what you have accomplished something in life, and it was worthy of having lived (for most of these writers).  A thankfulness for those who you were privileged to live your life alongside.  And a recognition that you probably did not deserve to have it so good.

My wife and I long since have recognized that some of the things I do are risky.  But it has been a choice that is a part of a rich life, full of joy, laughter, truth, and companionship that I would not trade for the safety and comfort of a life spent in fear and worry.  Already, I have had opportunity to pass on lessons to others who do the same.  And while there are no guarantees in this sort of thing, we treasure the memories and stories that we have been able to add to our families histories.

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