November 1, 2010: Bells—or Violins

The bells of mindfulness are sounding.

Thich Nhat Hanh

A week after my father died, my husband and I used a gift certificate from Jeremy and Vita (my husband’s son and his wife; thanks, you two!) to help pay for two Boston Symphony Orchestra tickets. Entering that august, lofty, historic auditorium, I realized that the first time I’d been in Symphony Hall, it had been my dad who’d squired our family there—for Tufts Night At the Pops in 1962. And I remembered a time when I’d been, maybe, six or seven, when he and my grandmother attended a BSO concert and, much as I had begged, had left me home. “You’re too young,” they’d declared. “You’ll squirm and fidget and bother the other concert goers.”

“I’ll be good,” I’d promised.

“Maybe when you’re older,” they’d told me. But we moved, my grandmother died; it was not to be. In college as now, however, whenever possible, I’ve attended concerts in Symphony Hall—but not in the black patent-leather mary janes I’d once imagined I’d wear on my BSO outing.

As I took my seat and perused the program, I was aware both of my own grief and my intense joy to be back in a space that has been such a significant place in my life.  My grief worried me a little: “There’s a lot attached to this evening,” I acknowledged. “I really need for this be perfect!”

Our orchestra seats were wonderful, we’d gotten there early enough for excellent people-watching and, oh, the sheer thrill to watch the orchestra members stroll in, schmooze, play a few riffs, tune their instruments. So far, so good.

But at about 7:55, two women in their late twenties/early thirties breathlessly brushed past us and took their seats beside us, just as the “Please turn off all cell phones” announcement flashed. But the woman beside me didn’t notice: She was checking her messages!

OK, Patricia, I counseled myself. You’re in a diminished state. You came here, tonight, with an unrealistic expectation for perfection. And, I reminded myself, you were raised in a family where concert-going behavior was held as something so significant, SO important, that you weren’t deemed worthy enough to attend.

But still . . .

Just as the conductor entered, the young woman slipped her Whatever The Hell It Was device  into her very nice evening bag (Spiffy electronic gadgetry, spiffy bags; please don’t judge me because I care for neither. OK?).

“Is that thing off?” I asked her. Firmly. But, I’m hoping, with a wee bit of gentleness, a tiny bit of I-know-I’m-a-mess-so-please-forgive-me.

But here’s the thing: That woman spent the entire concert with her head bent down while she leafed through her program. But, I realized, watching her with dismay, that’s what young people DO. (Some do.) In a crowd, on the T, waiting, walking along a crowded, city sidewalk, for crissakes, they bend their heads and check their messages, text, whatever.

No, she wasn’t a complete philistine. It was a sheaf of bound pages on her lap, not an eerily glowing electronic screen. (Thank you, Jesus.) But here’s the other thing: She missed an amazing, electrifying performance by solo violinist Pinchus Zukerman. Who, when he interacted with the orchestra or simply felt/took in Beethoven’s music, had been well worth watching.

Sad, huh?

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