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Inspiration for Dark Times

When I contemplate the failure of our Republican leaders and at least 40 percent of our population to take the imminent threat of climate change seriously, when I think about them tearing children from their families and incarcerating people who have fled here out of fear for their lives, when I think about their stubborn refusal to heed the scientific warnings about Covid-19 and what we must do to prevent a never-ending pandemic, when I think about the virulent, hate-filled screeds that populate so much of social media, and when I think about all the evil that has been done around the world over the years by governments, not least our own, I despair that perhaps we human beings are a failed experiment.

Yet, when I see doctors, nurses, medical lab technicians and scientists, EMS workers, home health aides, and hospital orderlies, delivery men, food workers, bus drivers, grocery store clerks, truckers, and so many others risking their lives to save those of others I think there may be some hope. And when I contemplate all the beauty that human beings have been capable of producing—the sublime beauty of Bach’s Goldberg Variations; the lofty majesty of Handel’s Messiah; the thunderous crescendo of Beethoven’s Fifth and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture; the infinite variety of Mozart’s symphonies and operas; the astounding resonance of a Pavarotti; the soulful cadences of the Negro spirituals or the exuberant praise of Gospel—the chiaroscuro of a Rembrandt or a Caravaggio; Vermeer’s play of light on a brass bowl and a pearl earring; the depiction of an era and a place by the Impressionists--I think that perhaps we are here for a purpose after all.

I was led to this reverie after recently watching the Metropolitan Opera’s virtual At-Home Gala via Zoom. I have rarely been to the Met because the ticket prices are way beyond my budget, and, of course, the Met Galas were totally out of my orbit, so I was thrilled when the Met announced that it would be holding its Gala on Zoom as a gift to the public. For over four hours across nine time zones over forty of the Met’s stars from many parts of the world sang their favorite arias each participating from their own homes. The sound was not, of course, comparable to what one would hear in a concert hall, but what struck me was the camaraderie they seemed to share as part of the “Met family” and the deep appreciation they showed for each other’s artistry as each introduced the next singer.

Oh, I know, there have been some scandals at the Met. Pavarotti was known as a womanizer, Met conductor James Levine was forced to leave after revelations of decades of sexual misconduct and Placido Domingo stepped down for similar reasons. But those revelations seemed inconsequential next to the majesty of the evening—for example, Renee Fleming’s Ave Maria or the Met orchestra and chorus singing Va, Pensiero from Nabucco all synchronized through technology. As one commentator said, “seeing all the members of the orchestra spread across the screen in their own individual spaces was both emblematic of the times in their most tragic but also uplifting dimension.” Witnessing so many individuals, brought into harmony by means of a common score and a conductor who orchestrated each section’s contribution to the whole was perhaps a metaphor for how an effective government ought to work—each individual, each section of the populace working together for the common good. What a far cry from the incompetent and divisive conduct of our current administration. We humans are flawed creatures, but we are also capable of rising to great heights. The Met Gala left me feeling very high, as if I were in touch with the deepest wellsprings of a spiritual reality beyond this pain wracked and polarized present.

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