Found in the Shuffle.

Don’t tell me the “shuffle play” on my iPod doesn’t know what it’s doing.

My father died from Alzheimer’s last February after a ten-year decline. Two weeks ago I was about to fly back home, as I have been doing about once a month since his death, to look after my Mom. I knew she and I would be visiting his grave. Not a day goes by that my father isn’t with me, but naturally, on the eve of this visit he was even more keenly at the center of my consciousness.

My iPod has over 4000 songs on it. Two of these tracks are different versions of the same piece of music: John Williams’ “Hymn to the Fallen,” his theme for the present-tense scene at the end of Saving Private Ryan in which the now-old Ryan visits the graves of his comrades. One version on my iPod is from the original soundtrack;ryan1-crop.jpg the other is a re-recording by the City of Prague Philharmonic.

I love this piece, partly because it is gorgeous music, but also because it has associations with my father for me. On a surface level the music honors his World War 2 service just as it does the movie’s characters’. But the deep level on which the music communicates to me has to do with my father’s long fight with Alzheimer’s. I conceived my father as engaged in a war with it, one it was winning and would win for good. At some point, although my father was alive and would remain so for years, my real father, the one inside, became one of “the fallen” that “Hymn to the Fallen” now memorialized for me. The piece–stoical, unsentimental, brave, noble, ineffably sad–was my father’s tragedy in music; it continued to be that, for me, for the rest of his years; and it is that now.

Music can do important things for us. This piece, somehow, helped me make sense of something that seemed to make no sense. Gave meaning, some kind of beginning middle and end coherence, to a story the end of which lacked coherence. Connected me to my father in a way I needed to be connected, when connection through any other means was no longer possible.

Back to the day that preceded my most recent trip back home. I was at the gym, on the elliptical. My iPod’s shuffle-mode decided to play the original soundtrack version of “Hymn to the Fallen.” What are the chances of that? Of having that piece come up, out of 4000-some possibilities, on the eve of my trip, when my father, his Alzheimer’s, the upcoming trip to his grave, were so present in my mind? Ah, you say, coincidences happen. But wait till you hear this. As soon as that track finished, the very next selection that played, out of the other 4000-some possibilities my iPod could have picked, was the other rendition of “Hymn to the Fallen,” from the City of Prague Philharmonic.

(If you wish to hear a short excerpt from the six-minute soundtrack version, you can do so by clicking here.)

Apple has kept it very hush hush, but it’s obvious enough—our iPods know us. When you select shuffle play, what you’re really doing is telling your iPod to play the music it knows you need to hear.ipod.jpg


8 Comments on “Found in the Shuffle.”

  1. Idetrorce says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  2. tnaron says:

    Tell me more, Idetrorce. With what do you disagree? How does your experience differ?

  3. Karen says:

    Ted, i read ur blog on the alzheimers site. it was very interesting. i am going to try and find the song. My father died March 31, 2007, and it has been very hard for me. He lived a long life but we were close. He was 92. He didn’t have alzheimers but my Mom does. She has had it for 6 years. Since my Dad died she has gone down hill. She knew who he was till lately. Now he is the man that died. I know deep down my Mom is gone. She doesn’t know me. But i am having a difficult time missing my mom. She is 87, Thanks

  4. Steph says:

    Nice one Ted I enjoyed reading from the link to alk’s site, Sorry to hear of your loss too Karen, I am the other side of the coin, in my 40’s and have had alkseimers for a few years, not too worried now for what I have forgotten as its past, but my own kids are finding this difficult rather than me. Have a good life enjoy every moment as though its never going to be repeated and as though its your last moments as when you get to the point of forgetting it all, you will never know, its those who are left, they will remember you as you had wanted.
    Hears to Life.

  5. Karen says:

    Steph, thank u.. i have lost my mom and she doesn’t know and it is hard on me.. She is like a little girl. But i want to say thank u again. And i will keep u in my thoughts with my Mom

  6. Linda says:

    Ted – I believe you, agree with you and appreciate you sharing your story. I also applaud you for supporting your Mom in being there for her when you can. Kind Regards –

  7. Mary Gore says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautifully written pieces about your father. Your words will help. Mary

  8. SAMANTHA says:

    i think it is so shocking

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