As clichéd as it may sound nowadays, one of the most emotional dualities of existence is “so close, so far away.” To be sitting at work behind a desk and spending every spare moment when no one is watching taking a furtive glance at the boss’ desk. To stare at the lifeless body of a parent, a friend, or even a child, and be able to touch them but know they are no longer there. And, in the case of keyboardist Vikram Shankar (Redemption), to have always at his fingertips Access On Demand to her face floating tantalizingly on a digital 10×8 screen, yet never able to stand in the same room and breathe one another’s air. To require a machine to make the human experience possible, to yearn for weeks into months to spend one moment together for real, and yet to persevere in love and commitment against the injustice of separation and the tyranny of distance.
And after a long six years, not only has Shankar’s long-term long-distance relationship finally closed the distance, his keyboard wizardry aspiring to the level of the almighty virtuoso Keith Emerson caught the attention of luminous names in metal like Tom Englund, whose endorsement led to Shankar being hand-picked to join one of the most eminent prog-metal bands in the world and appear on stage with Redemption at ProgPower USA 2018. Thus began his new jazz-fusion prog-rock adventure Lux Terminus, bravely eschewing a guitarist and focusing squarely on Shankar’s virtuosic talents in jazz, classical, rock and even metal realms, but beyond its incredibly original and pathbreaking musical content, wearing on its sleeve a narrative emotional poignancy far outstripping even many of his prog contemporaries. For the band, its name meaning “the light at the end” in Latin and titling their debut album The Courage to Be, seems to have its very existence purposed as an audio gallery of love lost and found, a meta representation of this paradoxical state of being and its life-affirming resolution, indeed the very essence of Shankar’s mindset at arriving from the years of struggle into this seemingly utopian moment.
Chapter 1: The Departure
What does it feel like to be left behind?
Nobody can agree, except that it hurts. And a special kind of hurt at that. Someone who was always right beside you, to the point where you can’t remember life before them, can board a plane to somewhere but not here and vanish from your sight for weeks, even months. You know that you have seen many people who you’ll never meet again. And yet even someone who will come back to you, hurts far more to lose. It wouldn’t hurt any more to say goodbye than to hold a much-too-hot cup of coffee for the briefest instant, except that she lit your heart on fire. And now it’s a raging flame with no fuel.
And for the first time since she nestled into your arms, you’re afraid.
A Sigur Ros-esque lonely ethereal synthesizer echoes through the suffocating silence, carrying the echoes of every last word from her mouth, until they are drowned out by the crunching sound of the front door closing. The sadness begins to overtake your every bone as each one begins to grieve at its own pace. Your lips, longing for her touch, are lost for words. But you feel the inspiration, the insatiable need to communicate your feelings that has given all your darkest moments hope, flood into your arms and legs.
And before she can walk too far away, you hurry down to the piano and start playing, in the faint hope that maybe she can still hear.
Chapter 2: Electrocommunion
It’s still the morning and you just want to take a nap, so you can drift into a world of dreams where everything will be all right, and wake up in a world where that dream will have come true. But the sun is cruel, forcing you inexorably to stay awake and just wonder if she’ll ever text you back again. What can you do when “what if?” keeps “now” in chains?
Sometimes the only thing you can do is wait.
But the electronic waves of transmission fire like synapses in the brain of a tiny machine many miles away, and a single sound emanates from your phone which none of your compositions have been more beautiful than. As quickly as the electricity arrived, it courses through your veins and stands up all of your hairs like a sharp static shock. That electronic music ringtone you arbitrarily selected from a random menu years ago mixes perfectly with the thumping bass and pounding drums inside your heart, creating its own larger-than-life digital symphony. Your fingers surge over the keyboard like they are tap-dancing on hot coals, hitting random keys as you struggle to find the right words because you’re just too excited and relieved to think. The drumbeat quickens every time you see the three dots floating in midair, speeding up until you hear that ringtone again. Even though you can’t see her face, you can almost imagine it in the “Smile” emoticon at the end of her text. And to the tune of your favorite quirky King Crimson-esque dissonant piano riff, you bring out your playful side and stick out your virtual tongue in the way that you alone know how much she appreciates. And so on, in a seemingly never-ending transcontinental dance of ecstasy.
But then eventually the dots go quiet.
And then sometimes the only thing you can do is wait.
If you could be watching from above at this moment, you’d know that she was simply running to catch a wayward taxi, watching intently for pickpockets, or hurriedly checking the Kate Spade watch you bought her for her birthday. There’s nothing you can do about it. And when her world is running at a million miles an hour, you’ve instead let it drag yours down to a standstill. Low jazzy bass notes drag along the empty floor as you lethargically go about your nighttime routine, the languid drumbeat settling you into your all too solitary bed for the evening.
But now, even with her gone, you still have something to look forward to tomorrow. You can feel the insistent rhythm of her love pulsing within your heart even as you try to settle it down to sleep, and a dazzling parade of Vangelis meets Yes passages of triumphant synthesizer illuminate your bedroom even in the darkest shadows of night.
And now all you want to do is wait.
Chapter 3: The Journey
You tried as much as you could, but you’re thinking too hard to stay asleep and so you wake up a little earlier in the morning than typical. Instead of breaking dawn, it’s just before dawn and the moonlight casts an enchanting spell over the backwoods behind your room. Fueled by the light of the moon and her sun, you aspire to the lofty heights of the Moonlight Sonata as you begin to play. The nocturnal tones of a fretless bass gently rise above the piano line as the moonlight peeks in and out from behind the trees far behind you. Though the world outside is still asleep, the world inside this room stirs from its slumber as cymbals glisten and dissipate like curls of smoke from hushed candlelight.
And then a vision of a whole band comes alive in your head, at first just casually strolling along, but then the atmosphere and structure grows more grand and sweeping as it ebbs and flows. The bassline thumps along in a stumbling time signature like it’s just beginning to get out of bed, as the drumming lifts it gradually upright by ways of a crashing cymbal until the time signature resolves itself into a smooth 6/4. And it’s at this moment that you realize, this music is the soundtrack of your life.
You hear a synthesizer line in the background, a wellspring of white noise emanating from the distance. It’s as if your most precious creation has awoken the world around you and, as they stand at attention listening to the maestro play, you can’t wait to share this unspeakable joy called love with everyone. And you feel a sense of hope poking through the dying moonlight as the sun comes back to life again.
You play along happily in the swaying 6/4 meter until the morning comes, and beyond as the bustle of the day begins to blend into your surroundings. You just want to play all day, even though today’s your day off and you’d normally want to sleep in. As the minutes keep slipping by, you find your fingers stretching further than you ever realized they could across the piano keys, every bit of your physical strength and intellect focused on creating something unlike you’ve ever dreamed possible.
For love unlocks the potential within us that we never thought was there. Love has turned this lonely wanderer into a pilgrim on a journey into her heart. And you pray and hope that with everything around you cheering you on, you will conquer every obstacle and make it to the end.
Chapter 4: Aberration
Weeks have gone by and you only seem to have grown together, despite being far apart. Counting the days until she returns seem as quick and easy as counting from one to however many. “It’s only a matter of time,” you tell yourself. If distance cannot separate you, nothing ever could.
But that one off-key piano note that you thought was a blip on the radar, Beethoven’s insignificant wrong note amidst a glorious symphony recital, continues to sound in the background, until it takes the lead, trudging along in a nonsensical rhythm you’ve never played before. The drumbeat slowly slips into more unusual and bizarre syncopations until you begin to consider the possibility that something might be amiss with the instruments themselves. Even the piano chugs along like Animals as Leaders stumbling upon a Steinway grand. Slowly you realize you’re the proverbial frog in a boiling pot, and don’t know how to escape, or where the temperature knob is.
Your dreams are turning into nightmares. You’re seeing her change.
She doesn’t reply as quickly. She doesn’t seem as talkative. And you haven’t the faintest idea why. You haven’t been able to speak real-time for a long time, with her studies occupying so much of her spare time. If you could just get an answer, you’d be able to trust that everything is fine and hold on until she comes back. If you could just see her face as you talk to her, you’d be able to see through the window of her eyes into her soul and know she still loves you.
The music in your soul reminds you of Beethoven, but when he was deaf and if he had been beginning to forget how music sounded. And just the same, whenever you try to compose, it feels like you’ve gone tone-deaf. The incomplete charts of your own original serenade you have scrawled on sheet music atop the piano feel like music from another dimension. You are technically skilled enough to play them perfectly, but you don’t mean them. And you can’t even remember what comes next when the sheet music reaches the blank space. So instead you just play random notes because you have nothing better to do.
You hear the clocks on the walls ticking by the minutes of every day, a monotonous yet hypnotic drone of machines, bass and kick drums. You can never seem to find your own rhythm as the piano keys constantly thump in the same nonsensical time signature as the other sounds around you. For when you lose your own sense of pitch and rhythm, your own direction in life, you depend on the song of others to carry you.
You feel a muted Moog solo passing over your head like a cloud blocking out the sun, as your brain itself gradually begins growing numb. You drift in and out of thinking clearly, the piano keys almost silently skittering like dust in the wind. You just go on playing until your fingers grow numb too, hoping your song will make sense someday. Maybe once in a while they resolve into an uplifting chord and you feel you’ve hit on something when she replies back to you, but you realize it’s a hollow and dependent rush and it fades quickly after another couple of days. And all it ever comes back to is dissonance. And eventually when you have nothing physically left to give, an unresolved chord permanating every corner of the music room. It lingers like the anticlimactic taste in your mouth of a corked bottle of wine that spoils even the most luxurious meal.
You can’t imagine how it could end here. And yet you feel powerless to do anything about it.
Chapter 5: Miles Away
The loneliness begins to make itself at home as the early winter begins to set in and inevitably make the simple act of living more effortful. The more you shovel, the more it wears you down, until you feel like giving up. You wish for a moment that she could understand what you’re going through. But like you, she can’t see through the rapid urban sprawl of electronic organ and keyboard solos flying by like rush hour traffic. The din drowns out her sweet voice until you start forgetting what it sounds like. And you’re afraid that soon she won’t recognize you either.
Last you heard, she was headed out to a late-night club big band concert after exams. You haven’t been to a show since she departed and wish you could have come, if only to say hi for a little while. And maybe then you’d somehow find the inspiration to finish that serenade.
You imagine the chaotic traffic out on the streets and highways as the crowd begins to amass for the concert. The multilimbed cymbal accents and hyperactive electronic bleeping propelling everyone racing at extralegal speeds down the last mile of highway before the exit near the venue, the blindingly fast drum fills as the exit passes in a flash by those unlucky few who were so caught up in the adrenaline rush that they lost sight of the one thing most important to them, and the off-meter syncopated clattering and sliding of boxes of old books and weeks’ worth of discarded papers inside the cars of those brazen few who mash their brakes to squeeze into the last few meters of the exit road. Whichever one of those she is, you know that she lives life much faster than you, and the more you were to chase her, the quicker she’d be speeding away from you.
You imagine the parties and the frivolity she could be having with her classmates. The band seducing the late evening crowd with a bluesy Pink Floyd smooth jam until the house is packed. The drummer then proceeding to dazzle the audience as if he had four limbs with Buddy Rich-esque power pyrotechnics and the organist letting gradually loose with enough Deep Purple-esque blasts of rock organ to mimic any rock guitarist, as she happily downs a couple of cheap beers next to a flock of guys who’d be all too happy to take her home with them. For all they know, she’s single. It’s not as if she could introduce them to her boyfriend by pointing 1,400 miles away in your general direction.
You hope that she has fun far away from you. You want her to have her own life. For what challenge would it be to love someone who is just like yourself? Why would it be any different than being alone?
But deep down within, you know the speed of sound is only so fast, and can only just hope that she still remembers your sweet serenade under the steadily more deafening wall of noise and the frenzied crowd.
No matter how many miles away.
Chapter 6: Spectral Shapes
You come home from work and realize that the lounge chair is still messy. You never noticed what the mess actually was until now. Why would you? It’s objectively just a crumb. But to you, it’s a minute piece of the sandwich you remember having made for her on her last visit. You never got to taste it yourself. But you know that if you had one right now, it would be your favorite sandwich in the world.
As you lean forward to brush it off, your fingers course over the smooth leather, and even if it’s the most comfortable chair in the world, its skin feels so lifeless to the touch by comparison. You can lovingly caress and kiss a swathe of leather all you want and it won’t reciprocate at all – not even smile back at you. Yet you’re tempted with every moment to do so, because you can still imagine her slumped on the chair, beaming back at you as you bent down into this exact position in doing the favor of bringing her dinner because she was too exhausted from the trip to get up. It feels like stepping into an alternate plane of existence, yet you know it was real and you can prove it.
Outside, the early evening mist hangs like a smoggy haze in the air, until you lose sight of what’s around you and feel like you’re drifting out of consciousness. A howling synthesizer cuts through your eardrums as surely as the bitter cold mountain winds outside, as if warning you that this place is in the here and now, but this memory is not, and you can only live in the here and now. But you can’t let go.
You sit in the chair and try to collect all your thoughts as if putting them all into a yearbook of your lives together. As you reminisce, your memory blurs as a Miles Davis-styled rolling bass lounges around and you hear the drums clattering and pounding as they recall even the most mundane sounds of that day, the cymbals lightly crashing and settling down like rustling leaves in the wind.
As their sound fades into silence, it likewise draws you sweetly into a dream. You start dozing off on the chair.
Piano arpeggios seeping together at such a speed that your vision starts to smudge.
The howling noise gradually fading as you slip out of this melancholic reality.
Into a strangely empty dream.
Can’t you create
Anything you want
Walking towards you
Reaching out her hand
Does it change
How long will you wait?
Before you realize…
You can’t make her come back?
But you can be someone she wants to come back to.
Chapter 7: The Road Home
You had so little will to wake up that you fell straight asleep, compressing all the days of missed sleep over what could have happened to her, into a night so long you’re shocked to find the dawn’s sunlight greeting you when you’ve finally exhausted your every last ounce of will to sleep. Your memory is so hazy this early in the morning that it’s only because you log into Facebook by your now well-established force of habit the moment you wake up, that you remember today is her birthday. You feel ashamed for a moment because you know you know this date by heart. And you don’t want to be any later to wishing her a happy birthday than this moment, now.
You wait for many hours, wondering when she’ll finally reply back. And then you realize, even though she finally says “Thank you!”, that it isn’t enough to satisfy you anymore. For you send that greeting to everyone who has a birthday, whether you really know them at all, or they’re just someone for whom you’ve just never gotten around to clicking “Unfriend.” And they all reply back to you exactly the way she just did.
You seem to always want something more. Yet the more you want of her, the less she’s there, vanishing further from this room into a memory.
Just like last year, even though she’s not coming home tonight to see it this time, you put on a jazz vinyl record and light a pink candle at your still immaculately dressed table, and dig through the refrigerator until you find your favorite bottle of French rosé. The piano frequency straddles just a bit too perfectly between the beauty you find in its high register and the sense of loneliness and distance it also depicts in its highest registers. The music is dancing comfortably on the edge of cloyingly pleasant, very laid back and romantic even as the rhythm section enters with a seductive swagger. You find yourself tapping to the beat of the drums and humming the bassline without a second thought, and feeling the urge to move your body gracefully as you take her hand gently into yours.
You’ll never have such a privilege at a table for one, you know. But as you pour the rosé and whisper to no one “à ta santé,” you begin to hope that even if where your heart is, is not at home, that you can do everything you can within yourself to make your heart feel like her home.
You feel like you could act out this fantasy on this empty stage forever. But after all the wine is poured, the buzz fades and the romantic music falls silent into the same scattered piano notes as before, nothing has changed. The chair is still empty, even though you wish someone was in it.
And then you hear your cell phone ring.
Do you still remember how your eyes shot up from whatever mundane sight they saw, the first moment they saw her? And how you knew she was the one you wanted, right then and there? Your body remembers at the sound of that ring, as the scattered piano notes coalesce into a harmonious arpeggio as if leading you towards whatever – or whoever – is on the other line.
But then your heart sinks as quickly as it rises when you take out the phone and see it’s not her calling, but it’s your best friend from work.
You dejectedly cast the phone onto the table and let it ring off the hook. Why would you want to talk to anyone else but the person you want the most? But he’s persistent and leaves a voicemail. “Hey bud, I haven’t seen you in three weeks and I miss you a lot. Just wanna see if you’re up for a night at the club.
Please call me back.”
It’s hard hearing from any of your friends. You haven’t hung out with, really, any of them since she started fading away. You avoided even your best friend for many of those days, even his sage advice ringing clichéd. But you realize that you’re still hearing the same harmonious yet melancholic arpeggio in your head as you perceive the concern emanating from his tone of voice and genuine longing for companionship. And as you feel a pang of guilt for having deserted them in your sorrow, you feel it overwhelmed by a sense of gratefulness that someone else hasn’t deserted you the same. And you take the first and bravest step, to dig yourself out of your self-imposed cage of sorrow, to not pine away and remember to live.
On the way out the door, you notice the date of her return neatly marked on your calendar: “Homecoming.” You don’t pay it much thought until you turn onto the street where your work team’s favorite club is located. After all, you look at it every day when coming home from work and know not just the day, but everything on the calendar by heart now. But as you approach the club, you feel the lonely arpeggio growing into a full-bodied band arrangement, bedazzled with layers of keyboards until it becomes a glorious Anathema-esque tremolo chord progression sparkling with the choir of your friends welcoming you into their arms, full of untainted joy and wonder like you haven’t felt since she left.
And now you realize, it’s not just her that’s coming home.
You’re finding yourself come home after being lost.
Chapter 8: Effusion
Though you’ve been down this way many a time, you never cease to be annoyed by the slow pace of traffic. As you impatiently haggle through the crawling line of vehicles, you can hear a cacophony of ten different clubs’ music. Lines of bass and drums tumble over each other as if all making a beeline for the same discount color TV on Black Friday. It all sounds much the same, all devoted to glorifying partying and carnally pleasuring girls. You think it all shallow and feel an urge to disembark like if you’d boarded the wrong train, but yet your instinct is calling you here, of all places.
You still don’t understand even when you can sense the onset of a creative urge, and yet you rush towards a parking spot, cutting off the car in front of you as horns honk back and forth. You’ve been cycling through every chord progression you know in your head, practicing every accompanying drum and bass rhythm mentally and even hashing them out on the steering wheel. But you don’t know what to do with them.
Then when you walk inside the club, your friends embrace you warmly and your best friend wraps you in a gregarious hug of the sort you’ve been starved for. And now you don’t just compare their hugs to hers, but accept your friends for whom they are. And your fidelity is rewarded as your best friend draws back a curtain to reveal a keyboard. Your heart soars along with the joyful keyboard lines you already feel forming in your head.
You know the piano far more intimately and while the keyboard looks similar, you fear for a moment that you won’t be able to showcase your talents. You hear the repetitive dissonant chords pounding in your head as if rooting you to the spot. But as the friend closest to you reaches out his hand, you place a blind trust in their faith in you, and take one step forward. Two. Three. Four. As each of your friends carries you in turn, one more step forward to the keyboard stool.
And suddenly as you gaze down from your seat onto the keys, you feel ready to shed the broken shell of yourself that you’ve carried on your shoulders since last time you sat down here. The keys never changed. They were always there. But you weren’t “there.” Yet now you’ve changed. And now the circuit is complete. And now being mended, it is wholer than ever. You become determined to take everything around you and make it something beautiful.
You are but one voice in a tempestuous maelstrom of sounds of varying pleasantness. But everything lies in submission to the fearsome yet benevolent talent you now feel has been set free from within your once self-imprisoned soul.
When a snippet of music swings by, you capture it and transform it into something colorful and exciting. Waves of synthpop become infused into a colorful juggernaut of pounding percussion and bass that shakes the walls of the room enough to get anyone’s attention. Lines of disco and dubstep become profusions of electronic Amaranthe-esque rock fusion, and meanwhile your other hand continuously twiddles away in maintaining a steady beat, leaving even those who know you in reverent awe.
It seems like you could play forever, and the hours melt into the AM without a second thought. Then you can feel your cell phone ring again. And though your soul immediately warms with anticipation of what message may be lying in your pocket, you don’t let it distract you, letting it instead fuel you to continue the concert at your absolute best until the bouncer announces closing time and compels you to retire.
But before you go home, you just have to know. You pull out your cell phone and see only that your friends tagged you on Facebook in photos and videos of your concert. You restrain your slight disappointment, knowing that no matter to whom, you brought happiness to the world tonight.
And only then, at the drop of a ringtone, a comment appears just below that brings the wheel of happiness back around to you.
“That was amazing! Can’t wait to hear you play when I come home!
Love ya sweetheart 🙂
Chapter 9: The Courage to Be
Life will take down everyone, no matter what. Even if you close yourself off to anything and everything, you will still experience pain, because you will die. For some, despair is the only way out of the inevitable pain of life. But even in the midst of pain, heartbreak, and all the things that may make existence unbearable, one can always find the courage to say yes in every moment. For merely to exist is to rage against the dying of the light.
Even as one cacophonous dissonant piano note rises up from your past to devour you, you let it ebb away into the encroaching silence of your solitude that has stolen words from you, and chip away at the disharmony of your past life with noodling piano, cycling through ideas and inspirations as diverse as Bill Evans, Keith Emerson and the great Chopin, until you let them be your muses and cohere them together to find your voice among those who have gone before you. And you resolve to make your own grand symphony, letting the rise and fall of the seasons dictate your every note, bringing a light into the cold tunnel of winter to come and watching as it passes through the penumbra of darkness and sorrow into the spring which heralds her return one day soon.
Every refined course of your fingers across the twinkling white ivory, begins to feel more and more like holding her hand. You know now it can’t replace the real thing, but you don’t need it to anymore. It’s something you now want to do not because you need to, but because you want to. Any time you wanted, you could have her, but you’d only really have her and she would only really have you if you were a whole person and let her be the same, so that half and half doesn’t equal one, but one and one equal two.
Night after night, you find the daily practice bring warmth to your fingers growing clammy from the winter growing harsher, and find with every day that your musical skills grow despite the myriad challenges you face in playing. Eventually Christmas comes, and for the first time in years, you’re setting out your tree alone and opening gifts you wrapped for yourself. But when you walk downstairs to see the beautiful Christmas tree, you realize that the greatest gift you’ve received this holiday season, is not anyone else, but yourself, whole and complete. And thus as you pass by the piano, you suddenly feel the urge to begin composing in the morning, to let this day of hope and rebirth begin a new epoch of your career.
The beginnings of a grand magnum opus ferment inside your head, with an alternating 7/4 and 8/4 piano pattern around which you can already see a grand orchestral arrangement forming. And you know you’ve stumbled on something very special when you share it with your friends and they suggest a full rock band arrangement around it. The energy of their contributions suddenly lifts the potential of the composition as you begin composing that grand orchestral arrangement, its symphonic bombast reminding you of Stravinsky as the drum entrance thunders in an appropriately vaguely tribal pattern. The drumbeat drops into a solid four-on-the-floor groove with the 7/4 section adding a pulse of undaunted momentum that seems to write itself, and before you know it, another two minutes of music have been added to your score. And as spring comes, you begin to lean on your hope and continue to compose in the morning, letting your first thoughts of the day, the most tender as you are arising from eight hours of well-earned slumber, give voice to your composing.
The next few weeks of improvisation and composing are filled with an unfettered joy, of playing for the sake of it like you’ve not felt in weeks, and each time you wake up to add another line of dancing jazz piano to your score, it adds another day onto a limitless chain of affirmations of the beauty and miracle of life that give you more and more will to get out of bed the next morning, until you’re inexorably swept along by the piano chugging along with a choppy bass and drumline at the speed of roaring tides and you can never go back to lying awake in that willful state of depressive stasis.
Every day, your demos gain in grandiosity and sophistication, until even your friends are awed and find their own musical potential unlocked, to the point where they could not prevent ideas from flowing out of themselves too and offer to join in creating this masterpiece with you. And if anyone had offered this in the summer, you’d have flatly refused and shut the door in their face. But now it is like opening the door to a new beginning as you joyfully welcome them inside.
You start the jam session with a jazz piano section, lying in wait for your new bandmates to find the right time to lift it into something bigger and find synchronicity. The drummer’s hi-hat clicks on and off like a metronome, biding time until the gradually bubbling energy from the bass begins to ever so slightly overflow and you find your fingers moving faster to catch his momentum. As if knowing something truly great is on the horizon, the synthesizer begins to rise with the awakening sun outside, its arrival bringing with it the orchestral lushness of the spring approaching, knowing that today you’ve decided not to see your shadow and to look not down towards the snow-drenched ground, but up towards the bright sun. The coldness entrenched deep within your heart by months of self-imposed solitude begins to melt away as you let warmth wash into your soul, and you can’t help but let gratefulness pour from your fingers as it overtakes your every thought and action. The piano and synth washes become lusher and fuller with every second, each instrument’s melody building on the last until the orchestra flies free of its own volition like a bird taking off in first spring flight, the grounding of the drumbeat swaying and dramatically slowing in midair as the earth gives way beneath you. Even as your eyes are by reflex transfixed at the falling ground below, you have no fear, now that you know how to fly.
As your course steadies, the victory bells and symphonic grandeur fade into jazzy piano with the bassline casually ticking away like the second hand on an ordinary day. You’re growing comfortable in this state of being, the feeling that you could just let yourself coast into success having achieved more than you could ever imagine, and let the euphoria from your accomplishments fuel the fire within your soul until she comes back. But you also know that nothing can ever stay the same, this happiness transitory, for the sorrow of your past will always chase after you, looming in the shadows as long as you allow it power over you. It’s a constant fight to escape the darkness behind, unless you keep looking into the light ahead.
As you climb towards the skies now markedly graying, you begin to take the lead over the rumbling thunder of bass and drums with agile Moog solos in the vein of Jordan Rudess, a modern-day inspiration of yours. You can’t see as clearly as you once did and have to exert ever more strenuous effort to stay afloat, the Moog quickening to a frenetic pace, and yet the rhythm underneath remains tenacious as your trajectory remains unmoved. The unity of keyboards, bass and drums is locked in as tightly as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, always a childhood inspiration of yours. The rhythm of flying becomes so ingrained in your system that once you’ve passed into the penumbra of the cloud, you still remember it, even though now you can’t see where you’re going at all. A now-fretless bassline drifts hauntingly through the frigid air, the rhythm dropping out from under you completely. Your future seems so uncertain as a thousand questions condense like a hazy mist in front of your eyes, clouding what little sight your eyes have left until you’ve gone completely blind. You know now that you keep flying only because you’ve taught yourself well how to stay airborne. There’s nothing left you can do but pray for the light to come soon.
And now all you can do is wait.
Your eyes were closed like you were laying down for a long night’s sleep, never even knowing if you’d wake up again. But suddenly your eyes can’t stand to be closed any longer as they are pried open by a powerful unconscious force you can’t see or hear. You soon find you are no longer blind, but now you see. You had gone to sleep as if judged by Anubis at the gate of the underworld, and your heart once selfish had proven itself at last capable of true love. Every tear you’ve shed missing her and every thought that she might be slipping away from you, was all unleashed in one overflowing flood of love that once had nowhere to go, but now is perfected in the timeless beauty of your art, soon reaching the point of overwhelming until it pierced the darkness.
You’ve become the great conductor and arranger you always hoped to be, unlocking the vast potential of many aspiring musicians around you, always there in the woodworks, ready to help you overcome, until the day came when you chose to accept it. The gathering of musicians has grown so large that you begin to experience a sense of relief too overwhelming for you to even feel like calling relief. You hear a piano progression in your heart and realize, as a brilliant sunray pokes through this snowy February afternoon, that someone who you’ve never even seen play piano before, is finishing your sentence for you, as if the weather knew what you were thinking and gave someone the words to express it. You feel the group lay their hands upon you during this moment of vulnerability and understand the meaning of this all even more profoundly than ever, letting their strength give you the momentum to continue living and making music through this difficult time. Layers of angelic synth begin to envelop the composition in their ethereal embrace, transforming the composition into something blessed in a uniquely special way that no human can create on purpose. The epiphany unfolds before you, wiping away the hurts and loneliness of the past as you understand this has all taken place within a masterplan greater than you could ever conceive. Like the great composers of the golden age, your greatest trials have been permitted in order to inspire the works that will one day represent your legacy. And thus you no longer look at the past with regret, or the present with fear, but look toward the future, whatever it may bring, with grace in your perspective and hope in your heart.
As spring arrives in the fullness of April, your demos begin to become an online sensation and capture the notice of the songwriter of one of your favorite bands, and the pride and gratitude you feel as he first reaches out to you to express his utter amazement at your talent are quickly replaced by shock and awe when he asks you to join the band full-time. You have always held their music close to your heart along with tens of thousands around the world who have survived many hard times through their music, and for a moment, you question whether you can do justice to their legacy. But it’s what you always wanted, to be famous not for any bigger reason than bringing hope into people’s darkness. As you mull over the offer for the day, you find that today, the composition that was at the time laden with jazz fusion and busy cymbals takes a brief darker turn in the vein of said band, the lowest keys of the piano pounding and thundering like the most downtuned of heavy metal guitar riffs, but beyond the darkness and storms that still remain during the spring season, slowly emerge your signature guiding light of brilliantly soaring synthesizer and orchestration, from lower solemn notes into a John Williams-esque symphonic crescendo behind a climbing drumline, as the next day, you find the courage enough to make the momentous decision to accept. The world heralds you as yet another beacon of hope amidst the many travails of a band who’s seen an unfair amount of setbacks, and in the truest way since she left, everything seems to make sense. You know that every hard-fought step of this journey you’ve endured will be just one of the many gallons of blood, sweat and tears around the world that adorn this band’s legacy. And the last few weeks until the advent of summer feel like they fly by in a haze of triumph.
At last, summer arrives and the last school year comes to a close, and you are halfway across the country celebrating her graduation, the last day she will have to spend away from you for a long time, until she comes back home for good. You hear the celebration bells toll and a crowd of synthesizers sparkle and seal your bond as her name is called to walk down the promenade and the audience of 100,000 claps and cheers her name. Even among that enormous crowd, you know that this time, as you yell out and wave at her from across the stadium, she can hear your voice.
Then you hear your Facebook notifications ping and, as soon as you get a moment after she walks back to her chair, you check on a complete whim, to find it is Timo Somers, your guitar hero who you never thought might even know your name. But one of your friends sent him your videos and he was so floored that he wants to contribute. The applause has not even totally faded and you feel like you will be overwhelmed with shock as every dream you’ve ever had has been realized at once. You never thought about a guitar part because you never wrote for guitar all this time, but some instinctive understanding emerges within you, that you know many gifted guitarists, but no one else with the unique gravitas to portray this one specific climactic moment. As you reply back to accept, you know that no form of electrocommunion can adequately communicate the titanic magnitude of your joy and excitement to work with him. But it’s enough for him to just see the word “yes.” He replies back so rapidly you can’t even believe even such a consummate professional could work that fast – a one-minute guitar solo in less than an hour. You can’t resist and catch a brief moment to slip downstairs away from the celebratory clamor, into a quiet sanctuary under the bleachers to listen to it. It soars with triumph and gratitude, a stirring proclamation of your self-actualization, every note imbuing something that once seemed unimpeachable with that extra je ne sais quoi, filling in the gaps that never quite felt like they’d been filled, as the promise made on that final winter day is brought full-circle.
But before the solo can quite finish playing, your solitude is gently interrupted by the one sight no amount of time could have made you forget.
In one eternal instant, the final note begins to soar into the skies above and the drumbeat slows time into a standstill, until it becomes apparent that what you see is not too good to be true, and she races headfirst towards your just as surprised arms. You stumble briefly to catch her and she falls straight into your grasp at last. You’ve missed her for all these months as she’s flown free and away from you, but now that she is back, you see the uncertainty and fear within her replaced by a radiant self-confidence and an unmistakable sense that she has truly become the woman she was destined to be.
And you know now that this is the woman you always wished for her to be, but she couldn’t become that until you let her go.
And that you’re the man she deserves, and you couldn’t become that until you let her go.
But that through letting each other go, you found yourselves. And that you had never truly found each other before this moment here, now. But you just had to have the courage to let go of the incomplete, to love both of yourselves deeply but too much to want to leave them as they were, before what would once have been two people who couldn’t live without each other, now becomes two people who choose each other.
Those who no longer have fear of flying free, are those who together have the courage to be.
Humans were created to live in fellowship with each other. From John Donne to the Bible, “no man is an island” and “it is not good for the man to be alone.” But yet you’ve learned loneliness can still have its own purpose. It peels away all the outer façades we’ve built, all the lifelines we’ve built to everyone and everything around us, and leaves us to fend for ourselves. And the strongest people are the ones who can be comfortable being alone. For then they don’t need anyone else. But they want them anyway. And only then is infatuation transformed into true love.
Chapter 10: Fly
It’s been a long and exhaustive process these past few weeks bringing her back up here to live permanently, and as your workday comes to a close, you sneak a peek at your notifications and she’s sent you a photo of herself lugging the last box of things into her apartment. You breathe a deep sigh of relief as the clock ticks down the last few seconds of the day, even if you know it can’t be as deep as hers. But as she replies back to you, saying she’s coming to visit tonight, it begins to feel much the same.
It is nighttime when you return back home, and yet as soon as she walks in the door, it feels like someone flicked on the light switch in the living room. You’d notice the difference even though it is now in the middle of summer and the blinds aren’t drawn. But, now you know, she just brightens the light that’s already there rather than commands all the light in the universe.
And you hope that she will see things the same way when she arrives.
As soon as she walks in the door, you allow her the chance to embrace you with overflowing joy, letting her react the way she always would, before you tell her the other piece of news that even she doesn’t know yet.
Just when she finally came back for good, you’ve received an offer to tour with your new band for three weeks across the country, and you’ll have to get used to being apart again, even for a comparatively brief moment. You wish you could truly enjoy and soak in the beautiful euphoria of being together, but it will be quite short-lived. But you know the chance to tour and live your dream is something you’d never miss for the world.
You cry of having to deprive her of being near you for yet another few weeks. You think, maybe it will be more painful for her to feel separation if you get closer. But her innocently pleasant face doesn’t seem to mind as her arms reach around yours to squeeze and hold you tightly, and you can’t fathom the words to explain your fears. And thus, can’t resist turning her down.
As you embrace even more passionately, she’s so close that you can hear the sound of her tears falling onto your cheeks. You figure she must have been crying out there in the stadium as she walked the aisle down to receive her diploma. But you know exactly why – because she had something she’d wanted for a long time right in front of her. Yet now that you can actually see her crying, you’re not sure exactly why.
Because she has you?
Because she’ll have to let go of you?
You never knew just how sorely she missed you this past year. Deep within, she was always feeling the same separation anxiety as you were, and now in this moment, you feel her reluctance to let go again. Her voice trembles and wavers in pitch like a distorted radio signal, knowing that the tangibly real image of you she sees before her eyes will soon tremble and waver just the same very soon, and vanish into thin air.
You feel a strong pull to finish that serenade, now that you have the one person you want it to be for, sitting next to you. The arrangement is sparse, simple, and stately iamthemorning chamber music, lush and beautiful but deep within, you know it’s missing something. All this time in your composing, you’ve not written a single part for voice, not knowing what words to say. But now you struggle to express what you want her to know even with your vast musical talent. But you know that right here, right now, is the Kairos Moment when everything comes together at the right time, and you can’t let this moment pass without creating something with which to forever remember it.
You start writing pen to paper as quickly as you put your fingers to the piano. You never knew how to complete this, until you could imagine the sound of the voice with which it should be sung. Every so often, you watch her composure begin to waver and put the pen down to cradle her in your arms, until the throbbing within her heart is soothed for the moment. It is as if, through your body language, she understands you without having to speak. And so comes the next line.
“I feel your light
It’s drawing near
I see your light
As you appear
And I know you can’t stay through the night
So take your flight
Until eventually, just before the last stanza, words fail the both of you and she collapses on the piano stool crying. As her once strong and powerful voice now trembles in fear, you stand behind her, gently holding her body steady and upright, tenderly whispering the promise of undying love into her ear.
And in that moment, when she can’t see you but knows you’re there, and that you love her with every fiber of your being:
“I need the strength to be alone”
And in that moment, when she sees the darkness outside begin to swirl around her, trying to reawaken her fears:
“I try to turn the darkness into light”
And in that moment, when she accepts that even in the midst of summer, the dark and cold will still come:
“So even if I can’t escape out of the cold”
And in that moment, when you find yourselves both grasping for the pen at the same time, and know instinctively through your near-telepathic bond that you have the same thing on your mind and gently withdraw your hand as she writes, until you see her fingers trembling too much to hold the pen steady, and prop her up to finish the last word:
“I will choose…life”
And suddenly, despite the depths of sorrow and anguish in her voice, the color and confidence return to it and it becomes the most beautiful sound you’ve ever heard. Playing piano under it would seem superfluous except that it feels so effortless, its chords unfolding like a lost Anathema ballad as she layers harmonies over herself and a soaring classical violin line forms underneath.
Each line echoes vividly inside your head until it feels as if you’re hearing a million of her voices at once, each one crying out in the sorrow of your impending parting, but also affirming the joy of togetherness, not only here and now, but wherever and forever.
Though you know you have to leave and she has to stay, you accept its necessity.
And as her voice begins drifting towards the apex of human hearing, thinning like the view of a balloon as it rises toward the sun, you let her fly away from you like a butterfly from your palms, knowing she will wait for you.
You both know, as sure as the sun will shine next morning, that you’ll come back soon.
And so now, you both know you can wait.
Video link to “Fly”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LV5dT5GYwEA