Day 6 of #500HappyMikahDays
Not a day from my memories, but a lifetime of someone else’s memories. Because it is Fathers Day today.
[MIKAH AZURIN is the brilliant drummer who co-founded and wrote original music for the metal band Brimstone in Fire, the jazz band Quail Quartet, and the drum-and-bass band Helen. He also wrote elegant software and was a top IT solutions architect for a major telecoms firm. He passed away unexpectedly on April 30, 2014.]
LETTER TO MY SON MIKAH
There, where you are, the music never dies
By René Azurin
Philippine Daily Inquirer
5:48 am | Sunday, June 15th, 2014
I can relate, in a way I couldn’t before, to the song lyric, “the day the music died”. Though written about the passing of another musician, it was what happened to us the morning of your sudden, totally unexpected, departure. The music literally died in our home that terrible day. Gone are the sounds of you beating out unique and innovative rhythms on your drums. Gone now too are even the pop oldies your mother would play on the stereo to keep the house infused with song. There is only quiet now. It is the silence of utter sadness.
We – your mother, your sister Sarah, and I – are absolutely devastated. Your going has sucked out not only the music but also the laughter that we as a very close family privately shared. The pain is indescribable. With horror, we contemplate the void now gawking in the very center of our lives. You gave us such joy, Mikah. Your mother doted on you. Your sister adored you. I, oh wow, I was in awe of you. With the way you combined genius mind and compassionate heart, it was impossible not to be.
From the day of your birth when you looked up at us from your isolette with already seeing eyes that seemed to say, ‘I know stuff’, we instinctively felt that we had been privileged to be visited by an old, wise, and innately beautiful soul. We did our best as parents to deserve that precious gift but, if we disappointed in any way, you ought to know that it was never from lack of love or priority. Maybe 39 years of that privilege was really more than we deserved. But, now, facing the fact that we will have to go the rest of our ways without our beloved pride and joy is profoundly unsettling.
You have now moved on to other planes, other dimensions of existence; we understand that, but we cannot yet cope with it. I honestly don’t know if we will really ever be able to.
So, these interminable numbing days that bleed indistinguishably into each other, we wander the house in a trance-like state, sitting in the places where you used to sit with your laptop, caressing the pillow where you lay your head, smelling your towel and shirts, touching the things you touched, sliding our fingers over the skins of your drums and holding out your drumsticks as if entreating you to, please, take them and tap out a rhythm. For long periods, we stare at your pictures in the frames we have around the sala and terrace.
There is a picture of you as a baby hunched over a book. Just 5 months old and your mother and I would catch you sitting up in your crib at 3 AM, looking intently at the pages of whatever picture book we had placed beside you. You started then and never stopped your voracious reading. I remember preparing to go on a trip when you were about 11 and you handing me a list of books that you wanted me to bring home – about 50 of them. Much of that trip was spent scouring San Francisco book shops to fill that order.
I stand before your bookshelves now and take in the breadth and depth of your fabulous intellect. Science by Einstein and Hawking. Classic fiction by Melville, Orwell, Murakami, and Lessing. Poetry by Rilke and Neruda. The ruminations of Borges. Assorted history and philosphy. Classic science-fiction by Clarke and Asimov. Carl Sagan’s Broca’s Brain. Sam Harris’s The End of Faith. Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape. Zecharia Sitchin’s Stairway to Heaven. And, of course, your favorites: the modern science-fiction/fantasies of Gene Wolfe, Iain Banks, Stephen Donaldson, and Neil Gaiman. Perhaps the strange worlds those writers imagined mirrored the ‘stuff’ you knew about the way the universe actually is.
A conversation with you was always something to look forward to. Talking to you about anything – from how to use a bass trap to improve the acoustics in a room, to how to choose hay for your rabbits and what treats not to give your dog Oscar, to ice ages and the 10 dimensions of string theory – invariably left one stimulated and enlightened. From whom else could one get such perceptiveness and insight on chaos theory or the action of superheated gases or the sociological origins of human behavior or the basis of morality and questions of good and evil? We mused, you and I, on the silliness of organized religion and raged about the anomalous character of our politics.
In any event, it seemed obvious that you had developed – and were evolving – an understanding of the underlying structure of the cosmos and that you were already seeing more than others, certainly more than I ever could. With a brilliantly creative mind and an education in applied physics, you, I suspect, had begun to catch glimpses of the nature of the multiple dimensions beyond this puny material world that we humans inhabit. I wish there had been more time to have discussed your ideas and speculations with you.
I wish I had let you teach me to play the drums.
Music was your passion but I.T. was your profession. One of your office colleagues remarked that the legacy you would leave them was “an aspiration to excellence”. Yes, that’s so you. Your sister Sarah recalls how you taught her how to write computer programs. She recalls how you handed her a complex piece of software and told her to find all the bugs in it; after she had done so and presented these to you, you then said, “Now fix it.” Later, you patiently took her through all those long lines of code and showed her the difference between code that merely worked and code that was “elegant”. You were that: the epitome of “elegance”. Years after, when you expressed pride in Sarah’s programming prowess to some I.T. industry professionals, you would omit telling them who the programming guru was from whom she learned to code elegantly.
Here’s something you’d find interesting, Mikah. Recent academic research – as reported by writer Jordan Taylor Sloan –has demonstrated that “drummers’ brains are actually different from everybody else’s”. Researchers have apparently discovered a clear link “between intelligence, good timing, and the part of the brain used for problem-solving”. Scientists now say that not only do good drummers “have a rare, innate ability to problem-solve” but that they also can “transfer that natural intelligence to others” through, it seems, “the effects of rhythms on brains”.
Sloan reports, “Researchers at Harvard found that drummers harness a different sort of internal clock that moves in waves, rather than linearly as a real clock does. They match an innate rhythm that has been found in human brainwaves, heart rates during sleep and even the auditory nerve firings in cats. When a human drummer plays, he or she finds a human rhythm.” Maybe, Sloan suggests, drummers “are people tapped into a fundamental undercurrent of what it means to be human, people around whom bands and communities form.” Intriguing stuff ha?
In your musical journey, you wrote and played the music of your metal band Brimstone in Fire, your jazz band Quail Quartet, and your drum-and-bass band Helen. Unfortunately, now, all that’s left to us are some videos of these on youtube. I watch these now and regret what I missed from missing your gigs in recent years. The talent, prodigious skill, and the creativeness. From the lyrics you wrote, Mikah, I am drawn now to this piece of poetry:
Tear up the maps and walk past the edges
Out to the zones where monsters will be
They’re waiting to teach you the wisdom you’re needing
So sit at their feet and learn how to see.
You always wrote beautifully, Mikah. Hmmm, sonny, what magical things are you seeing and learning now?
In the Bhagavad Gita, it is written: “For that which is born, death is certain, and for that which is dead, birth is certain; therefore, grieve not over that which is unavoidable.” Sadly, there is – for your mother, for your sister Sarah, and for me – no way for us not to grieve intensely. But, if those ancient lines can offer any comfort, it is that they mean that nothing is ever final. There are no final goodbyes.
This, at least, your mother and I will not have to regret: that we hugged you every time we saw you and that we said ‘I love you Mikah’ every time we said good night, whether in person or via text. We will love you forever, Mikah. And, wherever you might fly, we will see you again. That’s a promise. What a thing to look forward to: you pounding away on the drum skins of the universe and imparting an elegant human rhythm to the vibrating strings of the cosmos. There where you are, the music never dies.
All our love always,
(The author, René Azurin, is a management consultant, professor, and writer.)
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