An Antidote

A week ago, I saw the movie Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen. The scenario involves the young writer anxious to do really good work instead of what he is doing, which he describes as being a “Hollywood hack”. Every midnight, he is picked up in a 1920’s car by the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Elliot, and moved seamlessly into their world. He has wonderful experiences listening to Cole Porter at the piano, playing and singing his famous songs, and seeing Picasso being criticized by Gertrude Stein. He asked Hemingway to read his book, but Hemingway refuses saying, “If it’s good, I’ll hate you because it’s good and if it’s bad, I’ll hate you because you bored me.” He then said, “Gertrude Stein is the person to read your book.” After reading the book, Gertrude Stein says to him, “Every man fears death and questions his place in the universe. The job of the artist is to not despair but to find an antidote to the emptiness of existence.”

Yesterday, in an effort to avoid being bored to death doing physical therapy stretches, I put on Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. Obviously, I’ve heard this piece, and even played it, many times. But this time, with absolutely no distractions whatsoever, I became absolutely drawn into the world of this great symphony. It seemed that there was almost a laser-like concentration of sound and mind, and I marveled at the unbelievable construction and endless imagination that was revealed to me note after note, bar after bar. It wasn’t the notes or the bars, but the expression of a great soul in the form of musical language. I marveled at the fact that Beethoven was practically deaf when he wrote it. More than that, he was completely deaf when he wrote the late piano sonatas and the late quartets. If anybody found an antidote to the emptiness of existence, Beethoven did, and I considered it, along with many other great works of Beethoven that have entered my soul, a gift of immense value.

In the very recent past, I read some essays by Stephen Hawking. I was so touched by the simplicity and honesty of his words, but like Beethoven, Hawking was handicapped with total paralysis and the sword of Damocles hanging over his head. Although I was never able to fathom the intricacies of his descriptions of the universe and imaginary numbers, I did recognize that he became, in spite of his handicaps, the preeminent scientist of our age.

My last but not least hero is Viktor Frankl, who managed to survive the concentration camps of the Nazis with an optimistic view of life; and turned it into a whole school of psychotherapy known as Logo Therapy. All of this is contained in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which obviously I recommend to anybody.

To me, these are my lights. If possible, I would like to walk towards the light. I have no expectation of actually being a light. I leave that to these great souls that shared their greatness with the rest of us.