Friday, May 30, 2008

Wisdom from Mozart: Reflections on Life

"Remember" by Geninne from her Etsy store

I talked to someone today who visited Vienna in 2006, when that city celebrated the 250th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Now, I’ve been a Mozart fan since discovering his music and reading a fascinating biography of his life many years ago. Besides, he was an animal lover and had a wicked sense of humour! What’s not to like?

Anyway, this fellow told me about a Mozart quote he’d heard. When asked where his prodigious talent and beautiful musical compositions came from, Mozart replied that the music “…is there in the morning, but you just have to be careful to not step on it”.

It’s there in the morning – just be careful not to step on it.

That quote hit me very hard, as it summed up all the emotions I’ve had in the past two weeks. These past weeks have been an emotional roller coaster, with a difficult visit to the east coast to see my family (my father in a nursing home, my grandmother in hospital, my mother caught in the middle, my aunts coping with their own health issues, a divorce, and various financial stresses).

So many emotions:

Seeing my father, with whom I’ve been furiously angry for years, so vulnerable and helpless in the nursing home, with his degenerative brain disease taking away his remaining abilities one by one. He has become gentle and sweet, suddenly, because he can no longer rage. His body no longer allows him to throw things and curse and fly into a hurricane of anger like he always did. He is now placid and loving after years of fury. It is hard to remain angry at his soft, helpless body. It is hard to remember what I hated.

Seeing my mother, my good mother (the definition of kindness) be so kind and doting and supportive of my father, despite the fact that he was a dreadful father and a worse husband. She has managed to adapt with his disease, and to forgive a lot of his behaviours. She has explained away a lot of his rage and hate by illness, by mental illness which we now realize was there long before the physical illness. She has made peace with him. She has been there every day for the past 15 years of his illness, while I have been away from home, unhealing, wounds festering. No wonder it is hard for me. I never made peace with him.

My grandmother is sick too. She was in hospital and now living at my aunt J’s house. She is the matriarch. She lost her own sister at age 9 and her own mother at age 15. Then she raised her remaining brothers herself, dirt poor as they were, and then proceeded to have 5 children and a few miscarriages herself, as well as looking after various sick and dying relatives (and a few babies). She milked innumerable cows, hung out countless loads of laundry in the dead of winter, and put a million meals on the table. She lived in an amazing but decrepit old house for most of her life and tolerated my grandfather, who though cultivated and educated, appears to me to have been a thankless bastard. Luckily she has children and grandchildren who love her immensely. We have learned love and loyalty from her and the meaning of “values”. She has become quiet, not saying very much, in the beginning stages of dementia. But there is a peace around her now, that wasn’t there before. For so long, she seemed lost, living in that old house all alone, refusing help, but now I think she is content to be looked after finally. Someone, finally looking after her for a change. I wish I were there to help.

Anyway, so there was all THAT when I went home. Plus I had the flu for a full week of my vacation, which really meant I felt miserable, physically, if the emotional distress wasn’t enough. Mom and I did manage to have fun and some nice chats and it was nice having her bring me ginger ale and the thermometer and Kleenex and making up a bed for me in the living room so I could moan and groan and be sick and still watch daytime tv.

So, where is this all going? Well, where it’s going is that when I was home, despite all the chaos and the emotion, I finally felt peace. Like all the battles I was fighting are over.
I don’t know where or how they ended, but it feels like some stories have come to a close. I no longer need to be angry with my father. That person is gone. A new person has taken his place, someone I can love again.

My mother is still the strong loving person she always was, a constant, but is able to have some time, finally, for her own needs. I still worry over her, but I finally think she will be okay. She is very resilient and is learning to set boundaries and has become a very amazing woman who is incredibly sure of who she is. And who she is is lovely.

My grandmother, caught in caregiver turmoil, seems to be in a pretty peaceful place. I hope my aunts can figure out their differences and try to enjoy her final few months or years of life. She deserves to be looked after, after all.

And what about me? I am not part of the picture day to day. But when I'm back there, I'm 100% part of the fabric of the place and the people, and it is amazing to feel so integral. I normally live a life of quiet anonymity here in the city, far from my own family. I often feel alone and like my life lacks that mystical "meaning" everyone talks about. But all it takes is two weeks at home to realize I am someone. If only to a few other someones.

I often wish my life were bigger, that I’d been a doctor like I’d planned, or that I had some bigger role in the community. I want to start volunteering here, but what I was reminded of is that you can have a big role in the world simply by being a good, kind person. Simply by being good and kind to the others you encounter. That that is enough. To love your kids, your partner, to make one other person’s life better. That you don’t even have to be everything to everyone. You don’t need to be a community hero. You just need to be someone’s hero.

So when I heard that Mozart quote about the music "just being there in the morning", it made me realize that while we storm through life looking for fulfillment and make these grand overtures looking for meaning, all the happiness and meaning in the world is actually right there within our own lives, under our noses. While we're busy looking outside, or off into the distance, or to the wrong things (career, possessions, strangers, books) for meaning, it's actually there right in front of us. The meaning of life is right there at the heart of us, if we just quiet down enough to hear it.

The meaning of life is to love and be loved, to be part of the fabric of a family, and to do your best with the hand you are dealt. To be someone to someone. To help. To be kind. To make the world a brighter place for someone else. To do good. To give of yourself. To be open. To stop being so hard about everything. To stop raging. And to stop beating yourself up. To stop feeling bad about yourself for being too fat or too this or not enough that. You are enough. You are perfect. And the sooner you realize it, the sooner you can start loving yourself (really loving, not pretend loving) and stop resenting everything and stop pushing so hard against life and just start appreciating all the things you are so lucky to have. The meaning of life is to finally realize that you already have everything you need inside you. Just quiet down and listen…


  1. Wow, what a beautiful, deep post. You really put things into perspective and are so right. Life doesn't have to be "big" or over-complicated to be wonderful and important and successful!

    Thanks for an inspirational message :)

  2. Terri, sometimes your writing takes my breath away.

    Welcome home, dear one. Thank you for the emotional strength that it took to write such a post and to share it with us. It's true, we really do make a difference.

  3. Honnestly, Terri, your depth and insights astound me sometimes. I found myself nodding in agreemnent and reflecting on your words as I read this. The way you put your feelings into words is a phenomenal gift.

    I am so happy that the anger has left your father and a gentler soul remains. I hear you...


  4. Anonymous6:13 pm

    Terri, I love reading your blog because, not only do you have great taste, but you teach me things about design and you are such a thinker. It's nice to have you back and I'm glad you found peace with regard to your father.


  5. Terri,

    I was deeply moved by what you wrote. I am so happy to hear of the peace you speak of--it is so true that some of us struggle for so long before finding what we've had all along--I am certainly one of those people. Thank you for being so honest and for taking the time to write about it in detail.

    You inspire me to put my family first in my life, too. (I also live far from my parents and siblings.) Being connected to them is more important than trying to be a hero to the rest of the world. You put this so well! Thanks.


  6. What a beautiful post and sentiment. Your trip home sounds really cathartic which can be trying but wonderful. Not many people have the chance to put their childhood traumas to peace while their family members are still alive (if at all). Im glad you got to do so and in the meantime share such a beautiful lesson. Thanks for sharing with us.

  7. This post made me sigh with deep contentedness for you. xoxo

  8. Your writing is so lovely Terri. You really know how to reach that deeper 'something' in others. This alone makes you a part of something bigger. I see bright rainbows in your future!

  9. This has been a important trip for you. You have not only visited your parents, no, you have also been travelling to your childhood. And you came home with peace in your mind.
    I think it is a hard time now when our parents are getting older and you have to reflect on life in a other way than before. I am very glad that you have put the difficults behind you and that you can see your father in a different way. People do change through time and both of you have done so. Maybe you can not forgive everything but you can live with it in your mind.
    Best wishes from Poppins

  10. Yep, it's right under your nose! You are so brave to talk openly about your father. I too had a terrible father..... alcohol, insecurity, rage and selfishness.... a very unhappy childhood.....he abandoned us and we struggled.... that's what I think makes my life now ever so sweet... it's ironic isn't it. It's not the destination, it's right now that matters. So glad that you are at peace now. So... happy thoughts to you from a stranger in Australia! A-M xx

  11. Terri,

    This was a lovely post, Terri! I don't know how I missed your posts for so long, but I am glad to be catching up. You left me such a beautiful comment the other day, it really meant so much to me! I am glad to hear you are healing and seeing life for what it is, today is what we have and we can choose to be happy and content in the moment. Your post was poignant and touching, thank you for sharing your heart.

    Much love,