My partner Carol and I took our seats in the orchestra section of Benaroya Hall to listen to the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorale. Earlier that day, over coffee and croissants, we’d read a review of that evening’s concert and dashed off to buy same-day half-price tickets, excited by the turn our weekend had taken.
We were drawn to the concert by Mozart’s Requiem, a stunning, furious work. Begun in 1791 mere months before his death, Mozart composed in a fever, with intense focus, a channel for the sound of living and dying.
Although we were in Seattle to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary, the fact that we were drawn to a requiem, “a Mass celebrated for the repose of the souls of the dead,” was not lost on me. Two months earlier we had been present for our godson Matthew’s final days. Born ten weeks prematurely and weighing just over a pound and a half, Matthew had managed to survive for four months before his too-small body couldn’t keep itself alive anymore.
On the day the doctors told his parents there was nothing more they could do, a circle gathered around Matthew’s bassinet. I was not quite sure what to hope for now, not quite sure what I could do except be: be with him, be with the others, be with my longing for this to be different. Then, from down the hall, we heard it: a drum circle, tribal rhythms that were soon joined by a gentle chant, a basic human cry linking the forces within us to the forces with-out us, a sound-prayer exposing what was both most lovely and most frightened in each of us so that we might hold it tenderly, within the protection the circle offered.
I don’t know about the others, but it took a while for me to realize that the drummers were ushering the boy from the center of their circle into the next world. Perhaps my slow recognition mirrored the peace in the sounding, the steady dawning of what’s next from right now, the belief that all was well and that all shall be well, the comfort in being stitched together with a common human thread.
Matthew died three days later, surrounded by his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and us, his godmothers. Only once before—at our wedding in 2002—had I been pierced simultaneously by such exquisite joy and such exquisite pain, a living out of William Blake’s line that we are here to “learn to bear the beams of love.” I heard it too in the 200-year-old requiem composed by a dying genius who lives on in his work, and in those who have made his work theirs, and through all of those who live on in me.
I believe we are here to learn to endure the beams of love. I believe in that learning, that enduring, we belong to each other. Across time and distance, across all kinds of difference, to each other we belong.
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