There is Nothing but Grief

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ANTHONY O’DALY

Since your limbs were laid out

The stars do not shine,
The fish leap not out

In the waves.
On our meadows the dew

Does not fall in the morn,
For O’Daly is dead:

Not a flower can be born,
Not a word can be said,

Not a tree have a leaf;
Anthony, after you
There is nothing to do,

There is nothing but grief.

from Reincarnations, by James Stephens

I sang the Samuel Barber setting of this text while in college, and it has stayed with me ever since.  It is the lament in the back of my mind when I am feeling low.  If you listen to the piece on the YouTube link, you will hear the bass ostinato, “Anthony,” through the majority of the piece as the other voices cascade their mournful cries.  It reaches a crescendo in the last three lines, as if the dam of anger and tears has finally burst, but the river of pain, while an intense deluge, is ultimately brief.  What remains is the slow trickle of grief, until it finally dries up.

What grows in that dry gulley when the weeping finally ceases?  I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.  I am still waiting for whatever that miracle of recovery finally shows itself to be.

The truth: Yesterday, in a fit of internal stress and rage, I ate several of the “mini” size KitKat bars in the break room. I think it was 7, but it might have been 11.

The truth:  I couldn’t sleep well last night, and when I was awake all I could think of were the disappointments of my life, the times when there seemed to be a seed of talent and promise, but the seed was never nourished.  In fact, it was often killed by the very people who might have helped it along.

The truth:  I had a beautiful singing voice even when I was in Jr. High school, but I was told I would never make it because I was “not pretty enough.”

The truth:  I didn’t sign up for choir until I was in my senior year of high school, and even then my mother complained that she didn’t have time to be “driving all over the country” for school events.  (My high school was only a 15 minute drive from home.)  The only time that both my parents came to hear me sing was when I sang in the spring Pops concert.  I was the only person chosen to sing a solo both nights, and my teachers and friends were so complimentary.  But I was never encouraged beyond that.  Not by my parents.  Not by my siblings.  It was basically the same shit when I was in college.  You know how some parents came to recitals and concerts and brought the kids?  At my first solo recital, one of my sisters (who was pretty much shamed into attending) asked why I didn’t sing any country & western music.  It’s a long story, but a reasonably well-known composer wrote four songs for me to sing, but my classmates made remarks that suggested I was not worthy of this attention.

The truth:  I was an emotional wreck when I was in college.  I was also socially backward.  I didn’t know how to make friends.  I didn’t know how to be me (instead of parroting the behaviors of other people who I believed were good examples).  I certainly didn’t know how to act when the attention was on me because I believed for all of my formative years that I didn’t deserve anything good.

The truth:  I’m not done grieving that shit in my life.  It was 40+ years ago, and there is nothing but grief.