“Life is worth living, even in a prison cell” said Artur Rubinstein. These words had always caused conflicting emotions in me. While believing in their completely unhypocritical power, it had always escaped me how they’re possible in hard core reality. “Life is worth living, even in a prison cell”. A strong and demanding statement which few have the right to make in earnest. But Rubinstein, of all people, did have this right. And not prison, but a cell much darker granted it to him: an attempted suicide at 20 which Rubinstein not only miraculously survived, but which, in a way even more miraculous, had turned the whole perception of the world around for him, as in a magical kaleidoscope where the same few beads had momentarily displaced themselves into an entirely new image. And that image he had carried inside for 76 more years.
I had read these words many years ago, and, from time to time, they come back to me as a sort of distant star which I admire, as I would admire a saint. Knowing that I don’t exactly match that level. Or, frankly, I exactly don’t match it. But the more they are a challenge, the more they make me think: I feel their truth. And there is nothing more powerful than truth.
My life, which had always been rather hectic and had probed into two different continents and oceans (to quote a great poet), giving me two mother tongues in which I occasionally write without trying to understand which is dearer, has recently given me a surprise standstill. An adagio after years of allegro agitato, with a fading three-year-long Romancero (little romance) heaped on top, it has recently turned me to probing myself rather than geography. Forget the world for a moment. There is our own abyss to probe.
Long adagios are remarkably suited for that. The less things happen, especially on the inside, the better. The longer these periods are, the better. And the more monotonous they are, all the better for you. Plus, to complete the picture, put in your romancero theme into the adagio. Let it be a mirage of an oasis in a desert. Not more than a mirage, but that you’ll understand only later. For now, it will pass for an oasis.
There comes a moment, when Art doesn’t save Artists. Love doesn’t save lovers. The sun grows no crops. The Train has come to a stop. It’s a moment when you feel with your whole crumbled core that you’re nothing in the midst of Time, which separates itself into a billion crystals before your eyes, making a minute on earth as infinite as in deep space which follows different laws. In reality, you stand before two choices – to crumble your life into a complete mess, or to humble your soul.
There is the illness. And now, take the time. Read, as a dialogue between yourself and the great poet, read the remedy. Joseph Brodsky: In Praise of Boredom
Little by little, I start feeling the wheels rattling back under my feet, only to realize that the train had never broken down – it was only for a long stopover in order to change the locomotive, or the wheels, or some other spare part in need of replacement. Something I hadn’t given thought to before, and have only realized now, once fixed. As it picks up speed, and I watch landscapes sliding past, it feels remarkably good to see just the bare essential branches on the tree of my existence. And to see others for what bare branches they have. Not forever. But for some time. In order to grow new leaves.
Little by little, I feel my way into the next movement. And perhaps, somewhere, in the course of the symphony, the understanding will come of what those words meant “Life is worth living, even in a prison cell” without, God grant, our ever coming close.