If only it were that simple, dear Reader…
Lately, I have been consumed by thoughts of good food, good presentation and good style, in an effort to perhaps have their goodness spill over to my thoughts, which, alas, are often plagued by varied manifestations of the deadly sins, such as impatience, anger or vanity.
What a relief it was to read then, in The New Yorker magazine, an article called Holy Dread, on The Passions by J.S. Bach, and discover that apart from the alleged love of coffee that I and this most intelligent of composers seem to share, we also share a zodiac sign, and a tendency for soul searching, underlining and commenting in books and questioning ourselves whether our almost continual vexation comes from vanity or duty.
There, take a look at this quote:
The marginalia establish the fervor of his belief: no Sunday Christian could have made such acute observations. Bach singles out passages describing music as a vessel of divinity: in one note, he observes that music was “especially ordered by God’s spirit through David,” and in another he writes, “With devotional music, God is always present in his grace.” The annotations also seem to reveal some soul-searching. This passage is marked as important, and is partly underlined: “As far as your person is concerned, you must not get angry with anyone regardless of the injury he may have done to you. But, where your office requires it, there you must get angry.” One can picture Bach struggling to determine whether his “almost continual vexation” stemmed from his person or his office—from vanity or duty.
Some food for thought, don’t you agree?
Separately, from the Christianity and Culture magazine, I learned of the existence of Hungarian writer Agota Kristof (1935-2011), whose major work The Notebook tells of the coping strategies of two twin brothers living with their cruel grandmother and experiencing, pretty much like most of the European population in the first half of the 20th century, war, violence, physical and mental anguish, a dramatic shift in values, loss of both the physical and psychological notion of home, immigration into another country and change of language.
The Notebook, similarly to my humble writings here, is where the brothers take note of their thoughts and experiences to keep their minds fresh and keep track of time.
In order to cope with the unfathomable cruelty and absurdity of their lives, the brothers learn resilience and the whole set of skills most people these days are, willy-nilly, proficient in, such as disregard for pain, pretending to be deaf and blind, learning to withstand physical discomfort and hunger and perfecting cruelty as means of self-defence, inflicting punishment or protecting those weaker than themselves. The last, and the hardest lesson the twins learn, is separation – from their parents as they die, and from each other, as one immigrates and the other not.
Resorting to all of the above in the face of insurmountable necessity and not for pleasure, is what keeps the hearts of the twins pure and their souls – free of the deadly sins rife around them.
Also, applying all these coping strategies requires restraining empathy and adopting cool reasoning and a reflexive attitude. In this regard, a desired effect but also a self-sabotaging risk is this: “Constant repetition makes words lose their meaning and soothes the pain hidden inside them.” – a rough translation, but a most accurate observation, don’t you find?
Anyway, Happy New Year, dear Reader, and let’s hope that in 2017, the world will make fewer people go through the fate of Kristof’s twins, killing empathy, learning cruelty and enduring separation.
Sincerely wishing good food and good thoughts to all,