Stories of the Heart

"Where the Sun Never Sets"

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Written on June 15, 2009

There was a brief run of hot weather a couple of weeks ago. On Thursday I waited until the early evening to head outside and do my grocery shopping. I was not feeling very energetic that day and held off stepping out the door until reason and common sense won out. It's hard to argue with an empty fridge and a rumbling tummy.

I was walking down Canada Way heading towards the bus stop when a familiar face crossed my path. His name is William (for the purposes of this story), a former student of mine who is just finishing up his second semester at the school. We had not seen each other since March, during my final days at the school. I mentioned that I was on my way to the bus and that I would need to cut the conversation short. He asked me where I was headed. I replied, "Do you know the Save-On Foods up on Lougheed, the one near Brentwood Mall?"

He was headed in the same general direction and asked if I wanted a lift. How could I say no?

On the way we caught up briefly with one another's lives. Naturally, my first question was "How are your classes going this term?" As we approached the store, William decided that he might as well come in with me and pick up a few things for himself. I warned him that I have a tendency to take my time while grocery shopping. I pulled out my list, proudly displaying my compulsion for neatness and organization as I revealed that all of my items were categorized by the main sections of the store and in the order in which those sections were laid out. "Yes," I told him with a smirk, "I am that obsessive."

Again, it was hot that day. Even into the evening it was hot. As I went around the store I made sure to pick up a few extra items: Bananas, frozen strawberries, orange juice, vanilla yogurt. Blend everything together and you end up with one heck of a smoothie, perfect for beating the heat and perfect for sharing with someone as a way of saying thank you for their gratitude and for unexpectedly lending a helping hand.

I waited for William through the check-out, gave him my Save-On More card to use as he rang his items through so that he could save some money too.

We drove back to my place and upon arriving I passed along my invitation. Who could turn down a cold, homemade treat on a day like that? If I had more time I would have loved to have made supper for him. Unfortunately, I am not as quick in the kitchen as I am on the piano.

He sat on my one solitary kitchen chair and I on the abandoned TV stand. It wasn't long before that brief visit became a lengthy conversation. I began to hear this young man speak to me about something very personal, very painful and very special to him. He was letting his guard down. He was openly sharing his experiences with me. It was happening again.

Back in February, during my final semester at the school, I was asked to administer a make-up exam for William. He had missed the class in which the mid-term was written and so I sat with him in the library, watching over him as he took the test. I had asked him that day why he had missed class. William told me that he needed to fly back home to Alberta, that it was because of something "serious." I wasn't going to pry any further and left it at that. Now, some four months later, I learned the rest of the story.

While sitting in my home, in an empty living room with makeshift furniture, I heard another story of hardship, of difficulty, but also of love and of healing. You see, William's older brother had passed away in January of this year. He was 24 years old. An athlete (a hockey player), he had undergone surgery on his ankle for a recent injury. In the days following this surgery he had mentioned to his family that his leg was starting to feel sore. It was assumed that this pain was a result of the operation that had taken place just a few days earlier. What no one could have guessed was that this pain was being caused by a blood clot that was forming inside of his leg, a clot that no one knew about, not even his doctor. And just like that...He was gone.

In the weeks following his brother's passing, William began having dreams about him. He spoke to me at length and with vivid detail about each of these dreams. Sometimes his brother would appear just as he looked before his passing. Sometimes he would appear as he looked when he was younger. And sometimes he would look different, with longer hair than normal. William's brother also had a girlfriend and she too had been seeing him in her dreams. She told William about one of her experiences. She had seen William's brother sitting high atop the rafters of a hockey arena, as though he were looking down on those who were playing, watching over them. Well, the hockey team that William's brother played for ended up winning the championship this year. So who knows? Maybe he was right there with them.

Of all of the stories I heard that day there was one that had a lasting impact. After having flown back to Vancouver to return to his studies, once again immersed in a world of tests, assignments, grades and due dates, William had another dream about his brother. At the time, William was thinking of school, of all of the work and assignments he had yet to do. In the dream his brother said to him, "It's easier to do homework here because the sun never sets."

As soon as I heard this phrase I made the conscious effort to remember it. I never wanted to forget it. How profound. His brother told him that he is now in a place where the sun never goes down.

Apparently this story and that phrase have become something quite special in William's family. He told me that those who have heard this story seem to latch onto that line. In fact, his parents used it for his brother's memorial. The pastor at his grandmother's church even gave a talk one Sunday all about that line and that dream.

Our conversation ended nearly four hours after having that chance meeting on my way to the bus stop, though something inside of me thinks that it may not have been a chance meeting at all. I walked William back out to his car, helping him carry the groceries of his that he had brought into my house for what was meant to be a quick visit.

I went back inside, grabbed a pen and paper, and scribbled:

Where the Sun Never Sets

"What a great title for a piece of music," I thought. "I wonder if I'll ever write something that matches those words."

A couple of nights ago I was sitting at my keyboard, noodling, experimenting, mindlessly poking around at the keys. I tried adding an effect to the piano which suddenly transformed it into something ethereal, something almost breath-like. I recorded myself playing this new sound and then headed off for bed. The next day I opened the recording from the previous evening and listened to it. One's view and opinion of one's work often changes from that of when it was created. Things can feel so good and so right during their creation and yet leave the opposite impression in the days following. This piece didn't really have any sort of profound feeling attached to it when it was recorded. It was just an interesting sound, a pleasing texture. Upon listening to the piece the day after I found that although it was very simplistic and contained almost no melody, after it finished playing I wanted to hear it again. I put it on repeat and listened to it over and over. There was something about the mood and the feeling that it evoked. The sound of it, the emotion of it. It just felt good to have it playing in the background. I don't know why.

I spent today with a group of friends, out enjoying the sunshine, enjoying their company. When I came home tonight I put this new song on while I fixed myself something to eat. Again, it had this uplifting quality to it that was so calming and peaceful. I began thinking that I wanted to send it to Tom, that I wanted to send it to Eiko. I was a little disappointed by the fact that if I sent the song to them I would just have to call it "New Piano Idea."

It's funny. The phrase that had impacted me so much, to the point where I needed to write it down, where I had wanted to one day compose a piece of music that used it as a title, never entered my mind during the creation of this piece nor in the day following its creation. This piece was never written with the intent of having a certain title, nor was that title written down with the intent of being forced onto a piece of music. Both the title and this piece existed separately from one another. For some reason tonight - all of a sudden - it was a like a switch going off in my mind. The sound I was hearing, the emotions I was feeling, the imagery it was creating, was that of a place Where the Sun Never Sets.

As soon as the notion of attaching that name to this strange new piece of music came into my mind it was as though it could not be any other way. It seemed so obvious once I put two-and-two together. This sense of bewilderment in not seeing this connection at first only makes the feeling that they were meant to go together stronger. And so, I write this to you tonight to pass along this new piece of music and the story that inspired it.

This is not something you can listen to in the car or in a noisy environment. This is something that will play in the background during a quiet evening, while gazing outside at the stars, while letting your mind drift from one thought to the next. It is not so much melodic as it is atmospheric.