To Hold Infinity In An Hour

I’ve had this post in the queue for a little while – more than a few weeks – and I keep coming back to it and trying to describe The topic more effectively. I’ve realized that I cannot even begin to describe this phenomenon sufficiently. It’s like trying to describe your first memory to someone. Or that feeling when your sinuses suddenly stop being congested with no warning at all. Or how some sentences just feel right. Or how you just know that this music matters.

One way or the other, the below description only hints at what I am trying to get at. It’s like calling the sky “big”, light “fast”, or an active volcano surrounded by bears and sharks “dangerous”. These just don’t do the actual experience justice. But I still want to try, so here we go.

There have been a few moments in my life where time stops.

But it takes an absolutely transcendent experience to do so.

I had one of those moments when I finally got to see an estranged friend for the first time in years – and I was suspended in the balance between two points – the one point being a desperate desire to see her smile and accept me once more as a trusted and trusting friend and the other point being one of fully accepting that she may decide to slap me across the face and drive away, leaving me to always wonder if it was worth it to pursue the friendship again.

I remember every detail of that scene. The precise location I was standing in the neighbors yard so that I would be visible from the larger road. The snow falling in big fat flakes – they had just started so the ground only had a bit of powder. The pine needles on the ground. How cold my ears and hands had gotten – since I had been waiting there for so long. The hesitation that I had, despite the cold, to simply jump in the car – because I did not know if I was welcome. How far I had to lean down to see in to her car – I had grown since I had last seen her. The purple and white dragons embroidered on the black seat covers.  The look on her face right before she decided to communicate which way her decision would fall.

I might tell the full story later. But the emotions within me were running at such a pace that I could not help but let that moment wash over me in a powerful way. And emotions in general are what I am getting at here. Big emotions. As Chuck Palahniuk puts it, “big the way gods are big.” These things in your inner landscape just so big that you can’t even understand them or begin to make a strategy to deal with them, much less have the capability to describe them to other people.

For me, songs can do this. They make my inner world open up and be Big. They do not very often bring me to these huge emotions by themselves (they have occasionally), but they often call up memories of these emotions, and allow me to think about them, to process them, to view them as an object, and allow the viewing of them as an experience in it’s own right with it’s own emotions. In this TedX talk, Megan Washington talks about how singing is the only thing that can free her – ever so momentarily – from the cage of her stutter. She speaks of it as “sweet relief.”

I know this sweet relief. There have been a few things in my life that I have been able to do something very well, and I know just what she means. She is talking about the first time that I read, out loud, an entire sentence on my Japanese vocal mid-term. She is talking about the time that 3 deer joined me for a walk -entirely of their own volition – for an entire afternoon. She is talking about a perfect bulls-eye that I pulled when I had only one shot left in a big damn gun and all the men of my family-in-law were watching. She is talking about what I felt when I was taking piano classes in college, and I figured out how to play a few bars of a song that was extremely important to me in my dramatic and emotional high school years – Scarborough Fair. I remember spending several evenings only playing the one song – for a week I neglected my other school work just to play the song because I had finally found a way to come to grips with these titanic emotions in my past. She is talking about that moment when I got to watch as my friend’s daughter sing to him and his wife on his 30th wedding anniversary at a venue that he had not been thinking about the sound system or his daughter.  She is talking about that moment right after my wife and I turned away from our officiant at our wedding and the music from the opening scroll of The Empire Strikes Back washed over me and I saw the wave of excitement roll over my guests as all 300 of them suddenly realized that we were inviting them not only into one of the most important moments of our lives, but also to watch one of the best movies that Hollywood Sci-Fi has ever produced.

Sweet relief. These moments. Song and poetry does this to me regularly. It brings me these moments where time. Just. Stops. And I see parts of myself clearly.

It is actually an observed phenomenon that some people (especially, though not limited to, men) have the part of the brain that keeps track of the passage of time sort of stops working: I forget if it goes totally nuts or just totally shuts down -either way, there is no useful information coming out. People get this way with video games, and movies, and other high-sensory-input experiences.

It is one of the only things that lets me work a job that I have to work but I hate the actual actions of. My friends know that I ‘push paper’. They don’t know anything else because it is so boring that they tune out after a sentence or two. Seriously, I’ve had more than one friend ask me “so I know you push paper, but what does that actually mean?” – only a week later they ask it again because they forgot what I said the first time because they zoned out or got distracted. The people that have asked me more than 3 times might remember something about ‘forms’ and ‘prospectuses’. It is at a job that boring that I work, and it is only because of music (well, and podcasts) that I can stand my job.

I just get to tune out and listen to these people sing or tell stories for a while and make sure that my feet keep moving and my hands keep working and eventually I sort of wake up and *poof!* my work is all done. Like the music cast a spell and let me skip the work at the cost of the time to do the work. This makes it so that my work day is only about 2.5 hours long (since I have to talk to coworkers and bosses etc.). It is kind of amazing, but also a little disconcerting.

I don’t know what it is that makes you, dear reader, rise above the clouds and get lost in the moment, but for me, all you’ve got to do is sing. to sing that song that makes you just get lost.