I struggled after my last essay. Beethoven’s 9th is a hard act to follow: “Joy!” with timpani’s punctuating the cry for peace and brotherhood. I pray that now, even in these divisive times, there is still a consensus that peace and brotherhood are desirable.
I remembered the theme music for the Masterwork Hour, a classical music program on WNYC, an early public station in New York City. It was taken from the introduction to Bach’s Cantata #147, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. Here’s a link to a YouTube recording.
It was not too difficult to step back in time from Beethoven’s joy to that of Bach. The music is moving and it more than hints at the connection of humankind to something higher as a path to finding peace and happiness. It helps one realize that the be-all and end-all of life is not in the accumulation of more and more things or in the subjugation of others.
We can only become more by being less for otherwise there is no limit on how much will ever be enough: the number of cars, boats, homes. A person might spend all their waking hours running after pleasure, running so fast that they never have a moment to enjoy what they have.
The interesting thing about music – is it’s ephemeral, existing in a moment in time, one sound followed by another. You can’t grab it, tie it up and keep it in a locked safe. It can be shared with others without taking away from what you are hearing. Indeed, sharing the experience only enhances the joy. Think of a rock concert or rave or even one of classical music where you look around and see other enthralled faces.
Recall the folk wisdom of the proverb: It’s better to give than receive. This is powerful advice that is mostly ignored. People want more, advertising tells you to buy more. And everywhere people are commodified and made into objects.
Consider the TV ads or the hype about who looks good at 60 in a string bikini. Really! My wife suggested a long time ago a litmus paper test to uncover prejudice when it may not be obvious. How well would it go down if you substituted yourself or your own group in that ad or situation? Would you be happy? Remember the Golden Rule? OK. Let’s put a pot-bellied middle-aged man in that string bikini. How much desire remains? And any “yeh, buts” only reinforces how too often we’ve turned people into objects. It just AIN’T HEALTHY!
Oh, Joy! Adequate food and shelter.
I caught part of a PBS travel program hosted by Joseph Rosendo. He was in Thailand and followed the local custom of giving food to Buddhist monks in the morning when they passed in the street. He explained how important it was to connect to others and to ensure they had something to eat. This is a daily practice and not one done only on Thanksgiving or Christmas. It was clear that this connection gave him deep joy. He commented on how important it is not to always put oneself first.
So how can we learn to open our eyes and ears to others? Again, I’ll turn to Bach and suggest that you listen to this duet, removing the religious connections, and consider the duet as it can also be heard – between a man and a woman – each holding the other dear with life more precious than their own.
[For any of you who have had the challenge of loved ones with dementia, Bach’s music was the connection that provided support when a spouse with dementia was left alone after his wife passed. I believe it’s supportive and worth the read and hence venture a reference to my novel: Mr. Samuelson Remembers is available on Amazon.]
Indeed, music makes the world go round. It’s a shared experience and doesn’t discriminate by gender, race, or religion. Think of how it enters your body and heart and can bring you out of yourself. I dare say, at that point, there is indeed room for others. And better yet, letting others in increases your own worth and strength.
No different when you share a pretty sunset. The sunset is there for everyone. When the wind sways the trees think of it as nature waving hello. Reply in kind; wave back and remember to take care of the environment – it’s there for everyone.
The bottom line? Remember the lesson you can learn from listening and seeing with an open heart. Making room for others makes you stronger. A smile and a pleasant demeanor work miracles. Who knows, it may even help stop COVID. (Hmm, I wonder if I was thinking in the back of my mind about “Social distancing” when I wrote about “making room for others?)
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/
He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.