By Cathleen Elise Rossiter
View of Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock by Alexander Nasmyth, NGS
“Now are the woods all black, but still the sky is blue.
May you always see a blue sky overhead, my young friend; and then,
even when the time comes, which is coming now for me, when the woods
are all black, when night is fast falling, you will be able to console
yourself, as I am doing, by looking up to the sky.”
– Marcel Proust, Swami’s Way –
It is nearing dinnertime. I have been trying to write this post for three days now. Perhaps my reluctance to put these words down in black and white stems from the reason for the topic, Artistic Remembrances. I procrastinate because, once it is in writing, it becomes real.
Today I delve into the world of remembrances brought about by encounters with the artistic or creative expressions of others.
My remembrances today come to life at the sounds of the Scottish bagpipes, a memorial to a dear family friend – the news of whose death I just received. Strangely, as much as I regret that the last time I saw her was in the early 2000’s and that I did not write often; and as much as I have missed the company of her and her late husband, the memories that flood my thoughts at the sound of the bagpipes are those of the truest friendship and happiest times together.
We first met through an exchange program hosted by a church in my hometown. A Scottish bagpipe band was on its way to America to visit its sister town across the pond as the saying goes. The minister of the church in the sister town was friends with the minister of the host church in my town so plans were made for the band to play in our Fourth of July parade and stay in the homes of residents. Not having enough homes in his congregation to house all the band members, the minister sent requests to all the churches in town. We replied with a resounding yes. Thirty-two years and four cumulative trans-Atlantic visits later, the relationships continue.
I find it interesting that it is to art and music to which I turn to rekindle the memories of people, events, and days long past rather than to the many photographs or mementos of our visits. Perhaps it is because photographs reproduce a specific event or person in two dimensions; literally, a snapshot of a moment held in suspension for eternity (or at least for as long as the photograph remains intact). In situations where I want to remember a multi-faceted person or conversation, or what-have-you, I turn to music that has meaning to the situation I am trying to relive or person with whom I am trying to connect. Likewise, I turn to art – like the landscape above – that has some connection to the person or event thus evoking depths of character and an equally deeper, more vivid connection.
Bagpipes, you may think, are a peculiar form of music to which to turn for solace and comfort. It is an understandable concern. To most, the sound is offensive, jarring, droning. To me, it is the sound of steadfast friendship, of closeness in spite of long distances or too much time spent apart. The bagpipes remind me to keep my chamber filled with air so that I may have a ready supply for the times I may need to take a breath, to fill my lungs with air in order to keep playing my tune, whatever form the chamber, air, and tune may take at any given moment in my life.
Today, I draw breath and play my tune of remembrance for a fine woman of tremendous character who I am blessed to have known for a third of a century. As we say in America, “Happy trails to you, Jean, until we meet again.”