It was unbearably joyful.


It’s Friday night.

The windows are open.

The indefatigable crickets perform a single note concerto in a continuous loop. Gentle gusts of wind rattle the blinds and signal autumn, the chill taking a soft bite of the humidity. Zeke lies the path of the breeze of the oscillating fan, and snores.

I’m awake.
The Body spent.
The Mind and its chatter, ever-present – Working.

In a hunt for a sleeping aid, I flip on SiriusXM Radio and pan through selections.

BBC World Service kicks off a segment on World War Two titled The Leningrad Symphony.  I never cared much for History in school, and in life which accounts for a penchant for repeating mistakes. The moderator, with her soothing British accent, drew me in.

“It was summer, August 9th, 1942. Leningrad was cut off and surrounded by invading Nazi troops. 2.5 million civilians were trapped in the blockade. During the siege an estimated one million civilians died from starvation, exposure, and bombardment by the Nazis.  Amid the horror and in an act of defiance, starving musicians in the besieged city plan a special concert introducing Shostakovich’s new Seventh Symphony composed especially for the city.”

Posters went up all around Leningrad calling for anyone who could play an instrument.  Only 15 musicians from the original orchestra turned up for the first rehearsal.  There were not enough musicians capable of performing such a work and they had called on military players who would then be sent back to the front.  When the rehearsals were in progress, many musicians had no energy, especially in the brass section. Musically it was not an excellent performance because it was a minimal orchestra and they were not all professional musicians.

When the night arrived, the whole city celebrated. The audience dressed smartly.  Women put on clothes they hadn’t worn since before the war, though they hung lose on emaciated bodies. But they had their hair done and looked inspired.

‘When we finished the symphony the hall was dead silent. And suddenly, there was a storm of applause. A girl came up from the audience with a bunch of flowers. She gave them to the conductor. Can you imagine fresh garden flowers during the blockade? It was unbearably joyful.”

Ksenia Matus who played the oboe volunteered to join the orchestra and went all around the starving city looking for someone to mend her oboe. “When we begun rehearsals for the performance, I had to take my oboe to get repaired. I went back to collect it and the repairman said: ‘Oh, just bring me a pussycat.’ He said he preferred their meat to chicken. There were no cats, or dogs, or even rats left in the city. They’d all been eaten during the winter.”

The BBC program continued…

Zeke stirred, and leaned in against my thigh.

I adjusted the covers and rested my hand on his back, which gently rose and fell with his breathing.

There’ll be no eating you Bud.



  1. Wow…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That puts it into perspective David. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh – wow – I must confess the last part of this post jolted me awake. You lulled me with the “unfatigueable” crickets – and then BAM! No dogs or cats. Yikes. Bravo.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Whew…did *not* see that one coming….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There were studied done after the war about the lack of nutrition and its impact…those that lived in France, Italy, England where there was the ability to forage in the wild, and abandon gardens with perennial vegetation and gardens that were being tended fared better, nutritionally. They were able to eat the garden snails and slugs which upped their protein intake and their overall health..(protein & fat is so important on a child’s developing brain) I dispose of garden snails annually and I am always disturbed by my choice & they do heavily damage our crop …what a desperate feeling for a parent then or today, not to be able to fed their children…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. wow, what a powerful story. have you ever seen ‘the pianist’? if not, you should, reminds me of this –

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Desperate times. Desperate measures. Sometimes, we need to be reminded. That being said, so happy for Zeke, he’s a handsome dude. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow. This afternoon I’m going to find the Seventh Symphony and listen to it. Again. Perspective is everything, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A great reminder of the times of abundance many of us live in, but not all.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Not feeling so hungry now….

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This brings back memories of work that I did back in the early 1980’s, as a Russian interpreter. I worked with Russian Jews coming to Boston to resettle. I remember the older people telling stories of the seige of Leningrad, and eating shoes, eating wallpaper, eating rats……. War should ALWAYS be avoided and used only as a very last resort! How awful that our leaders don’t seem to understand this fact.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow! There is so much I take for granted.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You know, you’re telling your story, you’re looking for a sleep aid and wow – with this BBC story I can’t imagine you fell asleep easily… The impact is visceral. Such a contrast to the residents feeling it was a joyful occasion. Very powerful!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. many of us don’t fully realise just how good we really have it. eye opening, disturbing, yet hopeful of what the human spirit can rise to.

    Liked by 1 person

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