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It’s an index of how much I hate New Year’s Eve that my best one so
far was spent a while ago at a Hare Krishna ashram listening to the
cacophonic gibberish of cymbals and chants of ecstasy by total strangers
with my friend D. who now works for the

World
Bank.

No, I do not wear orange robes or belong to a cult — unless the

National Writers Union
counts. It was a holiday thing. Just once, I wanted to experience … true tranquility as the calendar transitioned from old to new, and D. suggested I accompany him to what he promised would be a gentle, if alien, setting. Granted, it seemed an unusual invite, but I was game.

After guaranteeing I would not have to speak to anyone there, join their church, use my real name, sign up for their mailing list, or eat and drink anything strange, D. picked me up in his silver-toned van, and we drove along a winding riverside path to the ashram, located in a spacious Victorian stone mansion at the edge of the city.

Before assuming a lotus position on the carpeted floor, I quickly scanned the room and thankfully saw only the faces of strangers, pleasant and innocuous. Whew! No one there knew me. No one could point their finger at me and say, “I saw you New Year’s Eve at the Hare Krishnas. What a weirdo!” Double-whew!

Even scientists agree a sustained percussive pulse can place you into a trance, and so I gave myself over to the music. In an odd way, its repetitious beat reminded me of bridal days with my musician ex-husband. This is about the music between us. Men and women on separate sides of the room, like a prom. We look at ourselves, not each other. No talk, not even a small movement of the mouth, if only to smile. Who will break this silence first?

With my eyes closed, the past came hurtling back. How I didn’t read music, though it orchestrated our life together, and each week I watched four grown men writhe with glossolalia of jazz, speaking in strange rhythmic saxophone tongues, shrieking the skins from drums, overtones bounding off beige plasterboard walls, and a jagged pain made me lock myself in the bedroom to howl with our dog. …

My trance continued, kind of a time-tunnel journey back into myself. A streak of music ran through my family like insanity. But it’s time to face the music that isn’t in me. My brother studied piano from a Japanese teacher, or played a Japanese piano and learned how to teach, or both. And my father picked out “Freddie and His Fiddle” with one finger every night for 20 years, until my then-hubby came along one day and told him it was “Song of Norway.” And I tried “Chopsticks” with my fists and ate with a fork and couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and hid my second-hand guitar under the bed, and bought a deluxe auto-harp instead, and sold it, half-off, brand new, five years later, to Helen Matuskiewicz’ mother. …

The chanting, the drums, the cymbals persisted and so did my reminiscences. And when I was a little kid listening to the lady opera singer on Sundays, I’d say “She half a belly ache” — my first critical pronunciamento. And to you now above all I insist historically persecuted people play the violin. My authority is a newspaper lovelorn column. His reply: “Within one week of becoming blind a person develops perfect pitch.” And so may I.

At the precise moment the clock struck midnight, all chanting and cymbals and drumbeats ceased, while outside was unmitigated babel: sirens and whistles and noisemakers, shouts and screams, pistols firing into the sky, a clamorous madness. Inside, the overtones left from the music hung in the air — not a hum but the faintest of vibrations that thrummed through our bodies like a caress — and we sat there, absorbing this perfect peace, illusory as it may have been, but peaceful nevertheless.

For me, that evening spent in such strange surroundings was a temporary escape from the obligatory parties with their redundant, boringly predictive patter; hypocritical kisses at midnight; faces stretched into taut, insincere smiles. I felt cleansed. Soon D. led me back to his van, where he surprised me with crystal goblets and champagne waiting, chilled and exquisite, so we could optimistically toast the planet’s future happiness, if not our own.

Happy New Year!

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