Friday, January 17, 2014

Living In The Shadow of Orpheus...Part I

In addition to not having much sleep the past couple nights I've been pushing myself so as to be around people as much as possible right now. I don't want to be alone in this room while feeling the grief. I let myself get close to this woman and opened my heart up to her. I think all of us know how important friendships are when struggling with this disease. Especially someone who wanted to learn about it. To lose someone like like her to suicide....I'm finding it incredibly difficult. Not much appetite, difficulty sleeping. The images playing over in my mind. Because the people who found her were mutual friends, and needed to talk about it, I have the details of what happened in my mind. I'm having to fight the images. I know with time they'll ease up. I forgot how exhausting the experience of grief is.

I don't know how this post will turn out given the level of exhaustion I'm feeling but I don't want to try to sleep and do the tossing, turning, replaying things in my mind. I can't concentrate on TV or a book. I want to focus on writing about something that feeds my soul and who's myth can express a poetic way of the experience of this disease.

I've long been captivated by the myth of Orpheus. There is something tragic, haunting, beautiful in the myth. Rilke, one of my favorite poets, wrote a series of poems in his book "Sonnets to Orpheus". One catalyst that spurred Rilke's writing these poems was the death of the daughter of long time friends of his. He was deeply shaken by her death and dedicated part of his "sonnets to orpheus" to her.

I guess these next series of posts with be as much about the myth of Orpheus as about Rilke's "Sonnet's To Orpheus".

[Note: the results of the Stanford Cytokine study are being released to participants today at 4:00 PST. A video will be released to those who can't attend the meeting in person. If I can I'll post the results of the study.]

There are a few different versions of this myth. I tried to find the most abbreviated version that captures the themes I plan on elaborating on later. First-an abbreviated version of the myth of Orpheus (for those who don't know it):

The story of Orpheus of Eurydice is a story of beauty and tragedy. It begins with Orpheus, the best musician that ever lived. One strum of his lyre, one note sung, and beasts would crawl to him, rocks would move to be closer, trees would leave their places to be near to him. They called him a sorcerer for his power, and perhaps he was, for he was the son of the MuseCalliope (1) and Apollo. Apollo was the one who gave him his lyre.orpheus.jpg
He lived his life simply and carelessly until the day he met Eurydice (2). She was a Dryad, and their love was perfect and unbreakable. Orpheus also drew flocks of women to him, but only one woman could capture his heart. The shepherd, Aristaeus, saw Eurydice's beauty, desired it, and tried to take her unwillingly. She ran from him. Ran in terror, without thought to her step, and so it was she stepped on a viper in her flight. The venom of its bite killed her at once, and Orpheus was inconsolable. His grief was bitter, but he did not let it lull him into a stupor. This led him to only sing about grief. Finally, he decided to take action.
With his lyre, Orpheus descended into the Underworld. A normal mortal would have perished any number of times, but Orpheus had his lyre and his voice and he charmed Cerberus - the three-headed monster dog of Hades who guarded the Underworld - into letting him pass. Facing Hades and his cold Queen Persephone (3) he played for them his sorrow at the loss of his love. The heart that was frozen by Hades' abduction melted in Persephone’s br east and a tear rolled down her cheek. Even Hades could not help weeping. They let Orpheus through to Eurydice, but warned him very carefully: Eurydice would follow him into the light of the world and once she entered the sunlight she would be changed from a shade back to a woman. But if Orpheus doubted, if he looked back to see her, she would be lost to him forever.
He turned and left the dark hall of Hades and began his ascent back to life. external image 117-orpheus-and-eurydice.JPEGAs he walked he rejoiced that his wife would soon be with him again. He listened closely for her footfall behind him, but a shade makes no noise. The closer to the light he got, the more he began to believe that Hades had tricked him to get him out of the Underworld that Eurydice was not behind him. Only feet away from the light Orpheus lost faith and turned around. He saw Eurydice, but only for a moment as her shade was whisked back down among the other dead souls. One simple mistake, and Eurydice was lost forever.
Orpheus tried again to enter the Underworld and demand her return, but one cannot enter twice the same way—and no other way was open to him. All that was left to him was death.
He lingered about for seven days without drink, food, or sleep. He eventually committed suicide, but the Muses mourned the death of their son and prodigy, and saved his head to sing forever.

In another version the myth ends like this:

Orpheus was inconsolable at this second loss of his wife. He spurned the company of women and kept apart from ordinary human activities. A group of Ciconian Maenads, female devotees of Dionysus, came upon him one day as he sat singing beneath a tree. They attacked him, throwing rocks, branches, and anything else that came to hand. However, Orpheus' music was so beautiful that it charmed even inanimate objects, and the missiles refused to strike him. Finally, the Maenads' attacked him with their own hands, and tore him to pieces. Orpheus' head floated down the river, still singing, and came to rest on the isle of Lesbos.

I thought I'd be able to write more but I can't due to exhaustion so will continue tomorrow or Sunday. After reading this you might think "what does this have to do with the experience of living with this disease?"  Come to think of it I have no idea. Ha! Seriously, it does. The reasons why will be addressed in the next few posts.


Katie said...

Love this...his head still dinging even after his body, heart and soul had been torn apart! Thank you!

Katie said...

oops! his head still singing ...

Lisa Petrison said...

I just now read about your friend's suicide, Terri. I am really, really sorry to hear about that.