Was für ein Jahr! (German for „What a year!“) – every second post in social media that crossed my glance in the last days of 2020 began with exactly these words: words that show we do not have much to name what is inside of us with, as it is a lot at once. Stunning. Indescribable. Disrupting. Shocking. Crazy. Violent in some way. In many ways “righting”. Real. Was. this. year.
And it has left us all a little different than we used to be before. Because…all of a sudden we asked ourselves questions we have never asked before. Because we saw pictures in our minds our consciousness had never drawn for us before. Many of them we feared. Others we welcomed as silent teachers, guiding us into a more meaningful life. As we couldn’t go out, we went within: this was another common Instagram-theme that always left me ambivalent. I loved the spiritual dimension of it and yet, in the same time, I felt embarrassed, sad, confused for the somewhat insensitive tone towards the disadvantaged ones, for whom the isolation has been nothing but impairing. The ones who’ve lost beloved ones. The vulnerable ones, for whom saying those words would sound almost cynical, as this pandemic divided our societies even more into priviledged and disadvantaged groups, which was anyway a disastrous fact in our neoliberal world already before the pandemic began. It is those controversial feelings for one and the same thing that remind me over and over again, that these times are real and move through me as I move through them.
Maybe these are the last days, weeks, months of the pandemic and soon we will wake up in a spring of closeness. Maybe it is simply easier to believe so, because we need something to give us hope in hard times. And once we can hug each other again, once we can bath again in the secure sensation that comes from being part of a collective body, of a soft, warm, hairy herd that calms the heart and brings the cortisol in our bodies to sleep, we might forget. We might forget what was.
The sweetness of my imagination, getting more and more vivid day by day, already invades my senses – what would I do first, once it is all possible again? And while this sweetness fills me with hope and life juices, it scares me, too: some part of me does not want to forget “what a year” this has been. And what lessons it has brought.
To not forget, I put mine on the page. We need to hurry more slowly. We need to do now what matters to us, because later it might be too late. We need to say what we have to say to the ones who matter – the earlier, the better. It sounds a bit dramatic, a bit sublime and anyhow it has all been already said and we don’t need a pandemic to remember that. But in fact, it is just as simple as that – we forget. Only vulnerability makes us sensitive in an altered way, as if we hear radio melodies of a frequency we haven’t known before. We need to open our eyes for the unimpressive things that fill our lives with life.
Still we have time to look closer, before we rush back into our busy lives that make us forget we won’t live forever, and to ask ourselves: What is it that helps us through? For many of us the answer will be that, which connects us with our source, with the breath that breathes through us.
I want to tell you my story about that. It is a story about inspiration. A story about breath. It is one that began already back then, before corona appeared and turned our world upside down. So, let me start from the beginning.
Purple dawn rising at the horizon, the village still sleeping in fading ink-blue darkness. It’s only Mum and me in the car, driving in beautiful silence. On our left – harvested rapeseed fields resting in burned orange-brown nightgowns. On our right – Danube. There’s magic in the air. Quiet, peaceful magic.
She’s the only one with whom a morning like that can happen. How blessed I am there was someone like her among the ones I grew up with. In the end, it is just 4 o’clock in the morning and we are driving the 20 km to the train station in the city for no “reasonable” reason. No one else knows. It is our business. It is the morning after my birthday. A time of the year that always somehow reconnects us two, in an almost mystical way.
I had just turned 32, but the sense of surprize makes me feel like I were 4, waiting for her incredible surprize, as there was always one each birthday since I could remember. It feels intense, maybe because this was the first birthday I was spending at my parents’ place since more than a decade.
She would have done the drive alone. I didn’t let her. We’re partners in crime, as we’ve been so many times before, embracing together the magic of life. It is her, I guess, that I have inherited that intense relationship to life from.
We are shivering at the station in the freshness of the October morning. The bus is coming. She rushes to the driver, once the front door opens, gets a long black bag while hiding two tightly rolled banknotes into the driver’s hand, shining with her unique cheerful smile that comes more from her warm eyes than from her lips. The bag’s for me and I get it. While we’re driving back in the waking morning, I hold him in my arms for the first time – a long-necked saz, just for me. Saz is telling me his name on his own, once I stroke over his strings, cooled down from the morning cold. Ilham. The arabic word for inspiration. And almost Ilhan – like the name of my mum’s acquaintance, who must have bought the magic lute on her behalf from a little workshop in Fatih, Istanbul, to bring it to the bus and to convince the driver to take him across the border to our home town in Northern Bulgaria as a silent, peaceful passenger in black.
Maybe because of the magic of that morning we first met, maybe because of some reasons of my heart – ever since he entered my life, Ilham began transforming it. He made me work less and live more. Taught me how to carve out time for what matters. Inspired me to listen to the music within.
Then it was him who brought a teacher into my life – a calm, young Kurdish men I met on an autumn evening in a music café in Berlin-Neukölln, who became my saz-teacher and whose long, black, thick lashes cover his eyes so thoroughly when he looks down at his saz’ strings, that I believe they do so to protect him from the chatter of the outer world, once he wants to dive undisturbed into Urfa’s smoky hills in the beloved Anatolian song. We found ourselves doing music together before we even knew each other. It must have been Ilham. We don’t need to talk much. We simply play. He is teaching me that ancient language and showing me the way into magic, again and again, with so much patience that might be such a normal thing when someone teaches, but that touches me so deeply, as I have rarely experienced such in my life before.
It was again Ilham who carried me through the pandemic over the past months. Taking him from the wall, dressing him with his black long ‘coat’, zippering it carefully, wearing then my own coat, putting on my shoes and then hanging him over my back and leaving the house to walk twenty five minutes down the lively Hermannstraße through rain and snow to go to class each Wednesday evening, no matter what: ironically enough, this has been the most constant, stable thing in my recent life.
It’s teaching me what real devotion means. A calm, peaceful devotion that is not expected to produce anything nor to please anyone. So different than the way I knew devotion from the dozens of years I had been devotedly dancing in a folklore dancing theatre in my hometown almost until I graduated from high school.
Ilham is different. He makes me show up, just…just because. Life is kind – show up. Life is hard – show up, he whispers, always nice, always kind. I show up, no matter what, and my showing up begins to carry me through life like a gentle hug, allowing me to simply embrace what is, and to literally play with it. Sometimes I even get little rewards that fill my heart with grace – like hearing the genius verse of the virtuous Aşık Veysel for the first time: “Bu da gelir, bu da geçer, ağlama”. This will also pass, do not cry. Sometimes I am so amazed by the simple wisdom of folklore lyrics, that it lets my lung miss a sigh. I am astonished by how immaterial the nature of the things can be that feel to me like real gifts from life.
It is also Ilham who paves for me a new way into my own body. Who makes me marvel like a little child at how much sensation one can feel solely by asking one’s left hand to move in a certain, unfamiliar way. And how much real joy.
Ilham has brough so much love into my life.
The love that fills me when my little finger one day suddenly can press the strings down there on the lute’s neck tightly enough that I can hear a real, clear, beautiful high ‘sol’ for the very first time.
The love that fills me when I feel an unknown aching in my arm, the tingling sensation wrapping my tendon after some hours of playing my first song in ‘Hicaz’- melody type, which requires a new movement, a challenging stretch of my thumb and ring finger together I had never done so far despite of the three decades I have been inhabiting my very same body.
The love that fills me when suddenly the melody gets born from the strings, stepping out and running from one to another and back in a right rhythm, just as ‘ceylan’, the gazelle from the Anatolian song.
The love to experience how miraculous our bodies are and how precisely they understand our will and serve us so devotedly, until they make it, no matter how long it takes – that it moves my heart, when I visualise that devotion in front of my inner eye.
The love that fills us, when we see what happens, once we trust.
The love that fills us whenever we move, whenever we do steps, whenever we give space to what is within, without conditions.
The love for life as it is and for us in it – this is what Ilham has been kindling in me ever since I embraced him in my lap that very early morning, the day after my birthday.