Monday, May 3, 2010

The Falling Man



In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.



Lately my mind is sunless and dim; my memories, like muted outlines of people lost wandering in a dense fog, appearing every now and again to remind me of some small or great event, are now more indistinct than ever. That is, I can barely remember what we ate for dinner last night...yet every so often a memory walks toward me, at random, gaining a bright lucidity as it draws near.

This morning such an image emerged from the hazy landscape, in complete detail, come to visit my shroudy mind.

In January 1988, just a few months before my grandma Eva's death, my grandparents attended a performance of Verdi's "Macbeth" at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. They had for many decades owned a near-priceless opera subscription, some of the very best seats in the house, mid-row just a few in from the stage for the very best sights and sound.

It was to be a regular Saturday afternoon, spent in music (and perhaps catching a cat nap when the recitative between arias dragged on a bit too long) and a light lunch in the city, at an understated restaurant where an old couple could pass an hour or two over lemon sole and dissection of the merits and flaws of the opera production...

The quiet enjoyment was broken apart in a sudden moment. I heard the disturbing news that evening, when my grandma, still in shock, called me at college to recount the tale: how she and Grandpa Max remained in their seats for the intermission, rattling their programs and chatting, taking a breather, forgoing the crowds searching out sustenance at the little bar...Grandpa said "Eva!", his lone cry lost in the collective gasp and cry of the audience remaining. Grandma looked sharply, grabbed Grandpa's hand and together they watched, as if in slow motion though it must have taken place in seconds: a man, falling straight from the very uppermost balcony, through endless air, the ruffling breeze from his descent and from the waving hands of the people unable to halt the terrible fall.

"It was so graceful," she told me.

I was not to know it yet then, but the falling man was a portent--his swift descent a suicide, a hard choice made in the final moments of despair--an awful sign (if I had known to look) of my grandma's death that warm May day a few months after, but hers an unwilling death, for she had more operas and luncheons to enjoy if she had only been able.

Though when I think of him, and her, now, the symmetry of their deaths, I'm comforted by an idea that takes shape: while he left his darkened world by fall, she left hers in flight.





To read in more detail of this strange and sad tale, visit the New York Times account.

Lines from "Musee des Beaux Arts" by Auden.

37 comments:

Pat said...

I can never forget the image of the falling man from the Twin Towers tragedy.

I don't like to hear 'lately my mind is sunless and dim.' Leah. Sometimes it is better not to dwell on the very sad part of life but more to concentrate on the good and happy things.
Forgive me if you think this is a bleeding cheek - it's an age thing.

Cinnamon said...

What an interesting story- his choice of death was considered. Makes me wonder how, if we could all choose our way of parting- if we had to, if that was the way, what would we choose?
Oh dear, very melancholy!
Hi Leah! Will be re-opening the blog soon xx

Brian Miller said...

oh that last line got me right in the heart...it all did...oh to fly when the time comes...

Leah said...

Pat, I don't think it's cheek. I agree with you, but sometimes I fall into a sort of melancholy hole that only time will pull me out of...even if I try to think of cheery things, it doesn't really work when I'm like this, alas.
xo

Cinnamon: it's actually an amazing suicide story--he went exactly as he meant to! But horrifying to the onlookers. Apparently it's not the only time it's happened...

I'm really looking forward to the reopening of the blog!

Leah said...

Brian--thank you dear. We can all hope for it...or at least imagine it could be true...

xl said...

Like Pat, this also made me think of the people who jumped off the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Normal everyday people whose lives were reduced to a decision on how to die. Jumping was the least worse choice.

Hunter said...

"...the ruffling breeze from his descent..." -That really got me. Falling imagery is stuck in my head of late. The WIP (in its current first rough draft guise) even has a scene involving Brueghel's Fall of Icarus.

Here's to sprouting wings on the way down. ;)

Jimmy Bastard said...

Sunless and dim I cannot accept after the reading of this excellent piece. Shall we agree to disagree on 'merely resting' instead?

This 1975 painting by Marc Chagall only added to the ambience of the narration, and was a fine choice.

Strangely enough... a copy of the same painting can be found in my wifes study.

savannah said...

i understand, sugar. xoxo

Leah said...

xl--I had thought of those people do--although they didn't want to die, unlike this gentleman who took the plunge at the Met--as you say, they had the best of two bad choices.

Hunter--I confess to a great curiosity about your WIP! Really.

falling imagery is so primal, so disturbing...

Jimmy--I am in a doldrums, but I will defer to your wisdom and think of it as merely resting... and thank you.

It's a great painting, isn't it?

sav--hugs and hugs. xo

nick said...

It's very puzzling that he chose to jump to his death at the Opera House when so many people would witness it and be shocked and horrified. But I guess he had got to the point where other people's reactions were less important than the terrible despair and frustration he was feeling.

I'm sure your mind is not sunless and dim even though that is your current perception of it....

mago said...

There's a picture (by Peewee, the 30s criminal street photographer?) of a young woman who jumped from the empire State Building and landed on a car.
She looks beautiful.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

What a fantastic post and a great use of juxtaposition. I never knew the story of the suicide at the Met. Was his death so dark? Could it have been, for him, the most peaceful of exits?

I love those huge Marc Chagall murals at the Met. You have to see them in person to really appreciate them.

Leah said...

nick--possibly he even wanted the drama of it all--one last grand gesture, as if he himself were the show! An incredible way to go...

Leah said...

mago--I looked it up and found it HERE. Every detail is haunting, including the fluttering white scarf...

UB--you're right. Although the man's final hours were dark, the death itself may have been more flight than fall...

Karen ^..^ said...

Sunless and dim... I've been there. It's not that we DWELL on the sad and melancholy but it just comes to us and we need to express it somehow so as NOT to dwell on it. This was quite a remarkable story. The poor onlookers... I wouldn't be quite right after witnessing such an event.

Baino said...

I love the way you write. Your posts are written with such depth and soul. You're definitely not flat even if you feel a little low. As for the poor falling man . .I think he was making a point. Such a public suicide. Those jumping from the twin towers were making a choice . . burn or fall? I would have jumped.

I hope your melancholy is momentary. Then if you'd been bubbly and gay, we'd have had puppy shots instead! (that's not a bad thing!)

Megan said...

Whew. Can't handle this at this time. Excellently written, of course. I'll be back...

Ronda Laveen said...

Hmmm...had to ponder a bit on this one. But, in the end, yours, mine or his, whatever you do, do it with style. Yes, in the words of the Eagles, Take it to the Limit.

willow said...

The Chagall captures the sad tale perfectly.

Nana Jo said...

You have written this so beautifully, it makes my soul ache. The Chagall was the perfect accompaniement, too. I guess the best we can hope for is to be welcomed into open, loving arms when we are born and to be surrounded by the same when we die. There is something profoundly sad about that man falling towards ao many unknown strangers to his death.

Bart van der Vaart said...

Wow, great blog! I'll follow you!
Please followme @ http://justflirtingwithtime.blogspot.com/

Tina said...

This really strikes a chord with me. How beautiful that she left hers in flight. If we have to go, better to go in the midst of joy.

Subby said...

Whoa. I'm off to read the accounting...

Princess said...

Remember that when flying too close to the sun one will always have their wings melt...

Another beautiful Post Leah...
So poingnent. I lost my father to suicide, "Not at the Met" but one early morning in the family home. It can be interpreted as a very brave but at the some time selfish act... for those left behind..
"Leaving in Flight" is also difficult to deal with... but i find that tho we tend to dwell at times... and that 's quite OK when processing... Death is part of the reality of being human...

Fly high with gracious acceptance....

Paul C said...

Yes, this Chagall is so meaningful here as a preface to this story.

Mark Sanderson said...

That is one heavy first line in comparison to the place I'm coming from.

Leah said...

Karen--you're right, saying the feelings out loud really helps me. Anyway, I wonder about my grandparents. I guess by that time they'd really seen a lot in their many years on this earth...but still...

I can imagine there would be a certain amount of replaying the image in your mind, almost compulsively.

Leah said...

Baino: thank you for the compliment dear! I appreciate it. I guess I don't feel flat exactly, but definitely blue. My blueness is unfortunately very intense at times, and it comes and goes, but sometimes stays awhile. It's chemical, really...

But the puppy does cheer me up! He is so hilarious, it's hard not to laugh when he runs by with an enormous shoe in his mouth, or Sarge's jeans, or Hedgie's teddy bears...he knows he's being naughty, and I almost think he's smirking...

Leah said...

Megan: no worries. It's pretty damn grim, let's be honest...

Ronda: I like that well-placed quote, and I hope ultimately to live by it...

Willow: I thought so too. I love that piece.

Nana Jo: thank you so much. I found myself getting choked up as I read the Times account, and thought about my grandma telling me the story...

Bart: thanks! I really like your blog too.

Subby: it's some story, isn't it?

Leah said...

Tina: I imagine it must strike a chord, and in a way I am very sorry about that...xoxo

Leah said...

Princess: I am so sorry to hear about your dad. And thank you for your lovely, soulful comment.

xoxo

Leah said...

Paul C: welcome to you! Yes, I did think the Chagall fit both poem and story, on several levels.

Mark: will you lend me some of your sunshine, pretty please?

Madame DeFarge said...

I feel rather ambivalent about this. His choice of death, but selfish in not caring (I make a sweeping assumption) about the affect on those who saw it.

Leah said...

Mme: I am ambivalent too. Suicide, although the only true choice we really have, is selfish to begin with--to inflict it on a crowd of people (and let's be honest, there may have been kids there too--I often attended the opera with my grandparents) is the ultimate selfishness. Not to mention, he might have killed someone along with himself!

Tragic on many levels...

Leah said...

...also maybe stupid...

Walker said...

The dance of the bumble bee.
Part duty part pleasure.
Graceful is the best if not by honor but in blind despair and without hope is only blind selfishness.