God, Peace and Life: The Mourners Kaddish And Icarus

 On this day seven years ago my husband Tzvi died. In previous years, on the anniversary of his death,  I used to go up to his grave  with one of his devoted students. As is the custom in Jewish religion, he read  the Mourners  Kaddish  for my husband , it was a lovely gesture.

The Kaddish is a prayer in Aramaic, it  praises God and expresses a yearning for the establishment of His kingdom on earth. The prayer is recited by a man, usually a family member, at funerals and memorial services.

I am used to the music of the Kaddish, and could almost chant it by heart. Still  since I know only few words in this ancient  language,  I have never really contemplated the meaning of  the words, until yesterday when I looked for the English translation of the prayer for the purpose of writing this post..

 The Mourners Kaddish

May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Amen.) in the world that He created as He willed.

 May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,

and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel,

swiftly and soon. Now respond: Amen.

(Cong Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.)

May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.

Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,

mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He

(Cong. Blessed is He) beyond any blessing and song,

praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now respond: Amen.

May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life

upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.

He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,

upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.

 The Kaddish is mostly about the greatness of God. It mentions the fact that He created the world the way He willed. But what I find most interesting is that this significant prayer ends with a wish that peace will descend from heaven and enable life on earth. If we consider that this is a mourner prayer, it is curious that death is not mentioned only God, peace and life.

A mourner’s prayer with no dead person could be compared to a painting about the Fall of Icarus with no Icarus or his wings, as can be seen in the painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel. In that painting a ploughman is working the land, concentrating on his work, and only some smoke in the background faintly suggests that a tragedy takes place elsewhere. This painting was also the inspiration to W. H. Auden’s  poem Musee des Beaux Arts.
 

  Musee des Beaux Arts by  W. H. Auden

 About suffering they were never wrong,

The old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

For the miraculous birth, there always must be

Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

On a pond at the edge of the wood:

They never forgot

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

 In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Like the absent death in the Mourners Kaddish, Auden points out that in Bruegel's painting everything turns away from Icarus' fall. In both cases we would rather turn our attention away from death and other tragedies as life goes on .  

 The Mourner Kaddish ends with the familiar words: "He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen." The bond between peace and life is especially meaningful  in time of war. This year I choose to say the Mourners Kaddish myself , and when I get to the last two lines I shall say the the words with special intention hoping that finally God and man would  listen and bring Peace to our area, Amen.

 

 
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Another Time, Another Place: The Power of Words and Music

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Once upon a time, in another place, I ran a music agency called Intermezzo. It was dedicated to themed words and music programmes for a variety of events, private and public. The notion of 'spectacle' didn't for the most part enter into it since we were there to enhance someone else's party. Marking a special occasion calls for ambience. There are things about tapping into the natural music of the universe, the rhythms of prose and poetry, that express our longing to harness destiny.

Having grown up in the fifties and sixties, when mass imagery did not clamour for attention the way it does now, and before television was a way of life and the cinema a rare treat, all we had was books and radio to populate our interior landscapes. Now that technology has melded them, we can listen to stories, plays and poetry, with echoes of tales told by the camp-fire on the edge of that purple twilight beguiling our ancestors.

There are vital clues in audio it is easy to miss with stage and screen. Shakespeare is wonderful and in many ways richer in nuance. It helps that radio stations can afford to employ the best actors when costs concomitant with film and theatre aren't an issue. It's a sophisticated art. The whole picture is painted with voice, neither fanfare nor foible to distract.

Many years ago, Catherine Cookson described how she liked to plan the following day's writing in utter silence before she went to sleep. Whilst she was mentally configuring situations, she was listening for that canny modulation in Northumbrian dialogue. She referred to it as 'going to the pictures'.

A friend recently described how singing in a language that is not native to the piece destroys the atmosphere and complementarity, the words fighting the music. Like good poetry that cannot be fully apprehended at a first, or second, or third, reading, sound and rhythm hook in their own right. T S Eliot is a supreme example, enigmatic, intriguing. Yes, in a strange way, at a primal level, we've heard it all before. There is an ageless truth we recognise, like a mother's heartbeat, or the whispering sea.

The urge to convey our childhood mythology to our children is strong and I can't help thinking that something got lost in translation when television took over and many children's programmes became cult viewing. Edward Lear became Mr Men and Grimms' Fairy Tales, Dr Who. There is a distinct breach in the culture of centuries at the point our children were learning to decipher the world. The strange thing is that though television is intensely graphic, it seldom resonates deep in the psyche. It may have thought-stimulating potential, but it is ephemeral and depends on the acuity of the mind's eye there and then. In the twenty-first century, we tend to believe that only what has passed through the rational mind has reality, when the mainsprings of creativity arise in the subterranean deeps beyond our control.

My early education was spent in Church of England schools (at primary level with a staunchly English Roman Catholic teacher who introduced us to the Apocrypha, also an honoured part of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the C of E) and I'm glad to have been compelled to recite long passages from the King James Bible by heart. Those cadences, despite the archaisms and quaint imagery, set me up for life as a writer and prompted my choice of reading, purely from their compelling resonance. While Shakespeare paved the way between the medieval era, the realms of Chaucer, and the Enlightenment, the Authorised Bible was, still is, a pillar of our heritage, though it is now largely deemed an irrelevance. Surely those vibrations delivered from a shared unconscious make it a masterpiece of language?

As to sound, its colour and architecture, I remember being enthralled aged three or four, by the brooding mystery of a serialisation of Wilkie Collins' The Woman In White on Woman's Hour (still going, like The Archers!) That story influenced my fledgling novels in subtle ways, but when I came to read the book as a young adult, I found its thickets tedious to penetrate and soon gave up trying to follow the plot.

We all agree that music has a magical potential to dissolve any kind of boundary you can think of. I have long been fascinated by the process of harmonising libretto and score as a heightened means of storytelling, but what about the spontaneous images and scenes evoked by arranged sequences of notation? The atmosphere, approaching something like memory, of times and places we have not experienced. In a similar way, perfume can sometimes trigger nostalgia for venues that belong nowhere in the context of the life we know.

When I was thirteen, I fabricated a tale to music by André Grétry, logging down impressions, passage by passage, and linking them together. In my head, I wanted to create a ballet. I remember the piece was entitled Auphine and featured a black rose with mystical powers. The project withered when my Dad took a look at it and said there was no such thing as a 'black rose'. Several years later, when I'd embarked on novel-writing as a serious enterprise, like many scribes, I would use music as inspiration for the mood of a scene. I found it gave me courage to get words down on the page (ballpoint in exercise books in those days!) The overture to Beethoven's Fidelio accompanied the early passages of my second 'apprentice' historical novel, set in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. I knew nothing of the opera at that time and was only a vaguely familiar with the music. When, two years later, I attended a production in which friends were starring, I was astonished to see the scenes from my story translated to the stage! By what strange alchemy do the laws of physics and biochemistry become image?

One thing we can be sure of, our senses, and there may be many more than five, ebb and flow and overlap in a rich multiplicity. They are not as distinct as our impression of them. Use earplugs for any purpose and you could find yourself in trouble with spatial awareness. I was told by a musician that the virtuoso percussionist, Evelyn Glennie, who is profoundly deaf, senses music and vivid colour through vibration along the spine.

How the blind decipher sound, what kind of picture is formed in the imagination, can't really be known or compared. I'd like to think it's something the rest of us might well recognise.

But does image evoke sound the way sound projects image on to the imagination's screen?

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On beating bashfulness: why marketing my book is about them, not me...

b2ap3_thumbnail_72a58f27fbf1fa965aa56b3cc05d98c2.jpgThis is my first blog post here in The Green Room. I thought initially that this wasn't something I could sign up to. Not because I didn't think it was a good idea - it is a fabulous one and I have already enjoyed reading some of the posts published in recent days. No - it was about my ability to commit to writing for another blog, in addition to my own and at a time when I am getting ready for the October publication of my book Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War's legacy for Britain's mental health. But then I thought about the opportunity it offers to get things off my writing chest and perhaps learn a little more about what it really means to be a writer from those who have been there, done that, bought the paperback.

I posted on my book's Facebook page recently that I am worried about putting my head above the proverbial parapet and really getting Shell Shocked in front of those who will stock the title or offer me the opportunity to have a signing or do a talk for their organisation. The publisher (Pen & Sword) help a lot but still, the social media and talk booking side is largely down to me. For all of my adult life I have disliked that feeling of imposing on someone's goodwill - selling raffle tickets, asking for a donation to charity, marketing a business event. Even pitching for work has proved a challenge. Why would anyone want to read what I have to say, over and above all those other writers out there? How do I make my work stand out from the rest of the slush pile? Why bother?

It has taken three years of counselling to deal with that last one. I know I bother because I love writing, and thus far people seem to have enjoyed reading what I have to say. I look at other writers with admiration now, rather than awe. I have met and spoken to enough new writing friends (virtual and physically present) to know that I am not unique in my lack of confidence and that a certain humility is preferable to insufferable arrogance. But the selling thing is still a sticky one, and talks and signings even more gluey. What if I fall flat on my face? Look an utter pillock? See people fall asleep and hear snoring in the back row (if sufficient attend for there to be anything other than a back row.....)

When I wrote of my fears, I was wrong if I expected any sympathy for my own feelings in the matter. I was forced to consider whether this self-consciousness is itself a form of vanity. I am writing non-fiction, therefore it is not about ME at all. It is about all those who find their stories within the covers of my book; all those people whose struggles with the lasting trauma of a war experience and enduring mental illness I felt needed to be heard; about a view of our nation that, two or three generations ago, some assume to have been unaffected by a devastating loss that would leave society utterly devastated should a similar conflict happen today. It is them I will be talking about, not me. Stop thinking about yourself, I was told, very politely (for most writers are very polite). The audience (who more than likely will turn up,) won't be there to hear about you, or your own worries, so think about the stories and how important they are. Get over yourself woman!! (OK, that last one was me...)

So I am trying to lose a little weight and get fit, just to ensure I can stay resilient over the initial weeks after publication (and not to look too hideous in the photos) and I will buy a new outfit, keep clear of the dog (so I don't look down and spot hairs and dribble on my crotch at a vital point in the talk) and take the writer Gill Hoff's sage advice and resist eating before talking; burping is never a good way to show respect for your subject. I know there are writers on here with a lot more experience than me so any more tips will be gratefully received. 

And hopefully it won't be 'me me me' on here from now on....

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Happy to Be Home from the Hospital

As one of the Red Room refugees seeking a home in Green Room, I decided I would re-post last Sunday's blog created in blogspot, where I have blogged since July 2005 even before I discovered RR.  Green Room seems to be a welcoming community with familiar faces, and I look forward to continuing friendships here.  Below is last Sunday's entry:
 
After six days of being poked, pricked, and prodded, it was wonderful to wake up in my own bed this morning.  I had slept for 11 hours when Gerald came in to wake me so we would have time for him to give me the scheduled Lovenox shot before the home health nurse would be at our house right after lunch. 
 
Gerald built me a little box for my feet under the computer to shift my legs onto, and I tried to remember to get up and walk around once in awhile.  However, the truth is that one reason I enjoy writing and surfing is that I go into some kind of brain zone that blocks out the world. The concentration is very pleasant to me, and when I could, I often sat for hours without realizing how much time had passed.
 
I continued taking warfarin, but after a few years, my primary doctor assured me I could go off the drug if I wanted.  We were getting ready to take a trip to Oklahoma City for the softball world series and on to my sister’s in Amarillo, so I turned down the offer to go off.  From then on, at my annual check-up, my primary doctor would tell me I really would not have to continue taking warfarin. I would sheepishly answer that I must be psychologically addicted to it to give me a sense of security. 
 
But as our daughter Katherine’s health worsened and I spent more time with her, I found it more difficult to make time for the regular INR check-ups that warfarin requires.  I began to feel silly that I was choosing to take a drug I was told I did not need.  So at this year’s annual check up, when the doctor told me I could go off, I hesitated wondering what would result if we took a trip (which we probably cannot do).  She assured me I could temporarily take a new drug and have that security for the trip.  I went off warfarin and felt free as a bird.  No more trips to get my blood checked.  No feeling bad when I got home so late it was really the next day before I actually took my supper pills including the warfarin, Taking only three pills (two of which were over-the-counter) instead of five made me feel so healthy!  
 
However, I continued to feel (as I had for a year or so) tired after 9 or l0 hours of sleep when I was able to get that much, but I figured that was part of being 80.  So the week before last, when I felt a bit more tired than usual, I did not think much about it.  It was not until the weekend that climbing the stairs was making me extremely breathless.  Fearing something was wrong with my heart, I decided last Sunday to call my primary doctor the very next morning.  Since I had taken no trips and I did not need warfarin any more, I did not worry about blood clots.  
 
With Gerald’s help, I made it to my appointment.  For the first time in our lives, he went in and met my long-time doctor and listened for me.  I was glad he was there because I was not thinking well and did realize that my doctor meant me to go directly from her office to the hospital for the CT scan.
 
All is well that ends well, I’ve heard, and all is essentially well here at the farm. Tests showed no heart damage.  The second CT scan (which was actually only over the lower half of my body although I did not realize it) was not to see if the clots were gone as I supposed, but rather to make sure I did not have the kind of cancer that could cause clots in the lungs.  The hospitalist, whom I liked very much, had already arranged for an oncologist to come if the tests showed cancer.  They did not. All this had taken place, and I had no knowledge or worry about it.  Isn’t that great?   The doctor was puzzled since there were no clots in my legs.  He asked, “Where did the clots come from?”  Blood tests sent off and already returned have so far given no answer, but I believe he said some were still out.  He did not want to expose me to an unnecessary CT scan since the thinner blood will eventually be at the right balance and the body will destroy the clots. 
 
Katherine was released from the hospital on Friday.  Her aide Katie, who lost her brother in a tragic accident so recently, is helping Katherine again.  Am I worried about her?  Terribly, but I cannot do much about it.  In fact I never could. Advanced multiple sclerosis progresses as it chooses weakening and destroying the body of the one it inhabits.   Do I believe in prayer?  Yes, and I am grateful that all over the nation people have and do pray for Katherine.  Long ago her friend in Nashville became angry when a prayer meeting she arranged did not stop the disease.  My cousin rode his motorcycle all the way from California to apply oil and pray for her recovery. I am grateful.  We allowed him to come if he promised not to get angry.  I really believed his prayers might bring about a remission or recovery.  Instead the disease continued to grow worse.   Many believing praying cancer victims die of their disease.  I did not even know I might have cancer causing the clots and uttered no prayer against cancer, and I got the wonderful news I was cancer free.  Life is not fair by human understanding. The writer of Hebrews tells us some get their promises fulfilled here on earth and some do not, but all are fulfilled.
 
That is where faith is helpful. Faith helps you to know when the answers you want are not given to you, perhaps there are reasons beyond human understanding.  Things that are seen are not the evidence of faith.  Rather faith is the evidence of things not seen.  So I believe and ask God to help my unbelief. 
 
Jesus taught us that pain is redemptive.  The two young girls hurt in same accident as the one that took Chris Williams’ life are recovering. The orange ribbons still deck the nearby church yard fence beside the highway. Hundreds (perhaps thousands) have prayed; and  just like the girls’ parents, the community is so grateful for the prayers and for the continued healing. Will something good come from the awful pain the wreck brought?  I believe so.
 
So right now I am home bound.  I am feeling pretty good, and I think the Vitamin B-12 shots given me are helping me with the fatigue I’ve had for a year or so.  Maybe being 80 is not the cause. That too is good news!
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Latest Comments

Rosy Cole Lord Nelson's Hat
18 October 2018
Thanks for reading and commenting, Katia. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. For me, posting poems is essen...
Monika Schott Seducing seas
12 October 2018
Thanks Katherine
Katherine Gregor Lord Nelson's Hat
12 October 2018
Truly beautiful and evocative.
Katherine Gregor Seducing seas
12 October 2018
What a feast of words! Magnificent!
Rosy Cole Love is just a Word
08 October 2018
...and it is the Word that was 'in the Beginning'.

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