The other night, Joan and I went to a classical music concert. Well, technically I guess it was a romantic-modernist music concert, if you understand that the romantic period in classical music began in the 1830s and died about 1940, and everything after that is modernism. (Otherwise we'd be in post-post-post modernism by now, and that could get confusing). Anyway, the ensemble is called The Dallas Winds, and they're pretty amazing. At least, I think they are. Another thing about romantic-modernist music; sometimes it fails to sound like music and just sounds like--sound.
But they seemed like they knew what they were doing, so I'm going to just say they were pretty amazing. They get paid for this, after all. To get paid for playing an instrument--any kind of orchestral instrument--you have to be pretty amazing. There's only so many jobs, and all of them are filled, and the music schools churn out new kids every year, all young and eager and out for blood, and you have to sort of wait for someone to die to get a chance to audition for one, and if you ever wondered why clarinet players turn up dead at such an alarming rate, well, now you know.
Incidentally, and this actually does bear on what I'm going to tell you, Joan's been having a lot of trouble with her knee. The one she had the surgery on back in 2009. It's got permanent arthritis in it now, there's not a whole lot anybody can do about it apart from replacing the knee, which is just Right Out, and some days she just sort of limps around with a cane and hopes she doesn't have to stand up too fast, or without help. Naturally, the day of the concert was one of those days. I dropped her off in front of the venue and went to park the car, then walked back through a maze of twisting streets, positive I'd lost the car for all time. Turned out I'd also dropped her off in front of the wrong venue, so she'd had to walk down to the right venue, with the cane, and--yeah. This evening was not starting off well.
But we got inside, and we had pretty good seats right near the stage, and the seats were comfortable and kind of fuzzy. Upon sinking into hers, Joan said, "I hope you're going to help me up." Yeah, sometimes if the seats are too low it's hard for her to struggle back out of it again.
Which was just about the time that the wind ensemble struck up "The Star-Spangled Banner." Of course. We're in Texas; it's probably a state law that every concert starts with "The Star-Spangled Banner." And by this time, all the other seats around us were filled in, so in order to get over to where I could pull Joan up out of her seat, two or three people would have had to move. So Joan didn't stand up for "The Star-Spangled Banner." Which I didn't think was a problem at the time. I mean, it's probably not a state law that you have to stand up for "The Star-Spangled Banner" if you can't get up.
Unfortunately, there was this guy behind us. I think you know the type. Old and loud. Well, in his seventies, anyway, and he'd been expounding at a pretty high volume about a number of things before the concert started. Of course he was right behind us. And of course he took issue with Joan not standing up. And of course he had to yell, loud enough to be heard over very loud music, "What's the matter with you? Won't you stand up for your country?"
Or words to that effect. And Joan said, "I can't." And he didn't hear her, of course, what with the shouting and the music, so I stuck my head between them and said, "She can't stand up without help, sir." And he grunted something that I'm sure wasn't terribly complimentary, and by then the song was over and we all got to sit down. And so the concert started. And I miss most of the first piece because I'm wondering how I'm going to get Joan out of her chair now. If she manages to get on her feet without help, am I going to have to lean over and explain to this guy about her arthritis and the cane and so on? Is that any of his business? Or should I just let him yell, "Oh hey, you can stand up now..."
Well, as it turned out, he didn't. We snuck out early and missed the last piece (by some guy named Hindemith). But really, the whole thing was kind of disturbing. I can't imagine that anybody in a wheelchair ever gets asked why they aren't standing up for "The Star-Spangled Banner." Or anybody with crutches for that matter. But a cane--well, it's not very noticeable, I guess. And the whole thing got me thinking about people with invisible disabilities. Take, for example, people with disabled placards in their cars. Not all of them are obviously disabled. Some of them look perfectly fine, but they probably have something wrong with them that you can't see. Nerve pain, maybe, or multiple sclerosis. And they have trouble getting around. You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get those placards, figuratively speaking (if memory serves, they didn't want to give Joan's mom one because she didn't have a driver's license and therefore, according to logic, never got in a car. I guess it didn't occur to anybody at the DMV that somebody else might pick her up and take her somewhere once in a while.)
Take people who are mentally ill. You may not be able to tell who they are, because they look just like everybody else, but there are some people who have a lot more trouble getting through the day than the rest of us. They probably don't have disabled placards, but some of them have mornings where they can't get up and nights when they can't get to sleep. They may have wildly fluctuating energy levels and some days they just hide in the house because they can't cope with the human race. I don't think most of y'all would yell at someone for not standing up for "The Star-Spangled Banner." Well, maybe you shouldn't give somebody a hard time and call him or her lazy if he can't make it in to work today. Maybe that's just the way it goes sometimes.
Anyway, I'm sure there are classical concerts that don't involve having to disclose your entire medical history to a complete stranger. And I'm sure we'll go back for one of those.