The Introvert on a 2-Day Pass

The Introvert is alone for the next 32 hours or so, while the newlywed husband and the two teenaged stepdaughters make a fast overnight trip to upstate NY and back.  They left before noon today, and it has been quiet since. The pets are snoozing on the furniture, so deeply asleep that their legs hang inertly and drop with an unresponsive thud when lifted by an inquiring hand.  Opera is playing through the TV speakers, but there is no picture on the screen.  A few cracker crumbs are all that’s left of a small plate of nostril-twitchingly ripe goat Brie.  The kitchen is fragrant with the scent of roasting peaches and the heat of the oven feels good in the cooling afternoon.

It’s amazing, how quickly the peace fills my head.  The music takes me all the way back to childhood, curled up with a book while my Daddy sang along with the precious vinyl records.  I remember him telling me the stories—all love and death and betrayal—and hearing the passion and despair and adoration right there in the music.  I remember dancing with him at my college graduation and at my first wedding.  I can still smell the clean cotton and the sweet tawny smell of pipe smoke from his sleeve, and hear his voice, warm and sure.  It’s pure magic that I can flick a switch and hear the same recordings that filled that warm room 40 years ago.  And when I’m alone with the music, he’s right here too.

There’s no reason in the world why I couldn’t listen to opera while my family is around.  They’re lovely people and used to my being a bit peculiar where music is concerned.  But while I love to have music playing always, there are some things that dig too deep to share with anyone else.  For some it’s a color or a flavor or an aroma that takes them suddenly and awkwardly out of themselves and into a place of intense emotion.  For me, it’s the music of my childhood.  It’s too hard for me to be around anyone else while that is going on.  I had a happy childhood and the emotion is a happy one, but too immediate and too potent to endure with an audience.  When my father died, years ago now, I immersed myself in the music that he taught me to love, clung to it while reality pummeled me into grudging acceptance, and finally came to love it all over again as the symbol of all the beauty and joy and meaning he taught me to see.

It’s been months since I had enough time alone to listen to an opera, since the old music wormed its way under my skin enough to make the tears start.  It’s balm to my soul.  All the brittle, anxious edginess of being up close and personal with other people vanishes and the constant fear of saying or doing the wrong thing simply evaporates.  It’s too sweet and sad and perfect to leave room for anything else.  It just is.  When it’s over, I’ll take out my knitting and put in a DVD of “Swan Lake” so I can wrap myself up in Tchaikovsky’s enormous sound and watch the people dance while my hands nestle in the deep, soft shawl I’m making for my daughter.  Because after the wrenching ending of the opera, my heart is at peace.  The fading notes leave cool tendrils of happiness all through my spirit, binding up and comforting the silly angst of everyday life and whispering strength and serenity and joy back into the emptiness that had built up underneath it.

I’ve heard that one doesn’t have to be entirely alone in the house to have this experience, that it’s possible to step behind a closed door and have the same soul-healing peace.  I’m not there yet.  At this stage of my life, the chances of being undisturbed are nearly nil and even if everyone in the house were entirely devoted to protecting my privacy, I’d feel guilty for neglecting them.  That’s my dream, though, to be comfortable and relaxed enough with my beloved new family to leave them to their own devices and take a few hours to re-charge and re-group in total solitude.  We’re all better off when we’re able to tap directly into what feeds us—and for this Introvert, it’s the stillness and the music that restores my flagging spirit and basic willingness to face my fellow man.  Promise to self:  find a way to do this more often.

©Mary Braden 2013

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