Adagio for Everybody

Saturday, I was in my kitchen working on a batch of Mexican Wedding Cookies, listening to the local classical station when I was delighted by Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I turned off the Food Processor and delighted in dancing an adagio with no one but Knightley watching.  That’s what you have to do when left all alone in a  room with hardwood floors when Barber suddenly wafts across the airwaves.

When I hear the Adagio, I always think of that scene from the movie Amelie where Amelie is imagining that she is watching a news report of her own death. The reporter’s voice discusses her life as attempting to bestow kindness on others but failing to ever really connect with people and succumbing to exhaustion, while the Adagio for Strings plays in the background.  Most of the times I watched this scene I found myself crying along with Amelie. 

I saw the movie Amelie three times in the theater during my second year of law school.  The three experiences summed up a more general theme about my social life at that time in my life. I saw it first with boy #1, who was my best friend in Provo at the time.  He and I had the kind of friendship that made me feel utterly comfortable. We would stay up until two in the morning arguing about politics, discussing Baudelaire, or listening to music.  He was the one person that I could completely be myself around at that time.  Seeing a movie like Amelie with a good friend like that seemed exactly right as it gave hope to two alienated Provo kids, that we would get our own happy endings. 

The second time I saw it, I was in Istanbul with boy #2 and two other friends.  Boy #2 I never dated, but maintained a silent, unrequited crush that ebbed and flowed in six of the seven years I was in Provo.  He was the kind of person that you could instantly lose yourself in a conversation with and neglect that three hours had slipped by and you had just missed your Professional Responsibility class for the fifth time.  Being around him made me want to be the best version of myself.  He was my great unrequited crush, because he always seemed too perfect and thus, it was entirely impossible to contemplate a real relationship with him. I liked him because when the real boys whom I actually dated broke my heart, he was always there to have a good conversation and make heart breaks seem entirely insignificant when there was so much of more significance in the world to care about.  When we saw Amelie in Istanbul, we saw it in French with Turkish subtitles. One of the other friends we were there with didn’t speak French nor Turkish, so he and I patiently took turns translating the scenes for her.  But watching the happy ending for Amelie this time around was slightly infuriating, because I knew this was forever an impossibility with boy #2. So, it resulted in an evening of silent, selfish sulking in the Turkish capital.

Motivated in part by a desire to try to move beyond the unrequited crush on boy #2, when I returned from Istanbul, I worked a plan with boy #1 for him to manufacture a hangout opportunity with boy #3 (a friend of his), in exchange for me also producing on the same evening the presence of a particular girl on whom boy #1 had a crush.  So we decided to once again spend an evening watching Amelie with the prospective dates we had set up for each other.  We were going to attempt to manufacture our own Amelie-esque endings!  However, in a classic, scripted romantic comedy sort of way, nothing worked out the way boy #1 and I intended.  The boy #3 that I thought I might be interested in brought along a friend, boy #4, who went with our planned foursome to the movie.  It was that boy with whom I entered into melodramatic relationship pursuits that lasted for the remainder of my days in Provo. Of course, when that imperfect relationship finally came to its emotionally heightened conclusion at about the time I was wrapping up law school over a year later, I once again relied on the wisdom of unrequited crush boy #2 and the friendship of boy #1 to get over it.   

Each time I saw the movie in the theater, I cried when I watched the scene featuring Amelie’s imagined memorial and Adagio for Strings because as a twenty-three year old myself, I imagined a similar fate awaiting me.  I imagined dying alone, trying to have done some good in the world, but truthfully unable to understand anyone other than myself.  So on Saturday, when I danced in my kitchen, I recalled that even though I am no longer twenty-three caught up in the same uncertainties, those feelings of wanting to be able to relate to others and actually make a difference in this world are still real.  I don’t entirely know how you relate the dancing to the desired end, but I do know that Adagio for Strings is the tune that is playing when you try to work out feelings of isolation and understanding.

Here it is as performed September 15, 2001 (a performance made all the more moving by the particular sad time in World Events) at Royal Albert Hall:

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