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Good Grief?

I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, 'The Beatles did.' --Kurt Vonnegut

I came upon that quote searching for something Haruki Murakami said about the Beatles in his novel "Norwegian Wood", named of course after the famous two-minute ballad. It was one of the characters in Murakami's most elegiac novel, a woman of almost forty named Reiko who says the line I was googling. Reiko, a side character, had once been a piano prodigy but has long since abandoned her vocation by the time we meet her. She now plays guitar instead, as a hobby, but with no less passion. This wise and broken soul who has lived her share of hardship already, adores the Fab Four and plays out a series of Beatles songs for her two closest (young) friends in an apartment one night late in the book. After performing a whole whack of their catalogue she turns to her audience of two and she says, those guys knew something about sadness. 

That line came to me this morning sitting in the car after I'd dropped the kids at school but before starting my day. I'd turned off the engine but was still sat in the car, in a parking spot outside my building, the keys still in the ignition, the radio still playing. I got to looking through the CDs I keep forgetting are under the arm rest and have yet to return. I've only had the car for a month, bought off my father who has no need for it. He hasn't driven in a couple years already; this car that's just one year old wasn't even in his name, it was in my mom's. The CDs are his (they're all his now). I slipped in the red Simon and Garfunkel CD I knew so well; how many afternoons had I played it in my parents living room back at 120, our old house. 

It was letting myself sit there an extra precious few minutes, just one more Paul Simon song, and then one more after that from another of those brilliant artists who knows something about sadness. 

Sheryl Sandberg in her book about losing her husband says you are never to ask someone who is grieving, How are you? What is acceptable, however, is, How are you today?  

They say everyone grieves in their own unique way. That was my form of it, today. 


Jon Mendelsohn