After months of over nights engrossed in writing Rethinking Survival, the kaleidescope has turned. Time to put on another hat. It’s now or never. Give form to thought. First I produced the Kindle version and now the paperback edition. Quite a strenuous project. A friend likened it to giving birth.
Tonight, Friday, December 27th of the waning year 2013, I’m waiting for final approval of the submitted book. How, then, do I announce this new arrival? It’s full of hope for the New Year, yet so fragile in its uncertain future.
When I draw on my memory banks for the best way to describe my concern, I’m remembering a powerful experience from Oberlin years. It was the mid 1960’s. I was a college Freshman. The occasion was a performance of Brahm’s A German Requiem.
I was seated towards the back of the upper balcony in Finney Chapel. This 19th century, church-like assembly hall was fitted with wooden pews and a large front stage. The Conservatory Orchestra and College Choir were seated up front. The chapel was filled to capacity with a mix of students, faculty and “townies.”
The Requiem wasn’t new to me. As a member of the Festival Choir at Interlochen’s National Music Camp, I’d actually participated in an earlier concert. So the power of the music was reinforced with memories of intense rehearsals.
The unforgettable, dirge-like opening weighs on the soul with its ponderous message of mortality. ” . . . all flesh is as grass, and the glory of man like flowers. The grass withers and the flower falls.”
But at Oberlin, I had the misfortune to be seated behind a clique of music students. (Conservatory students called their building the Con. We called them “Connies.”) They were remarkably oblivious to the solemnness of the Requiem. Throughout, they showed off their cleverness by critiquing the performance. In stage whispers, hissing derogatory remarks. A soloist’s pitch was off. The conductor’s tempo was too slow.
However, right next to them, ignoring the Connies entirely, sat a single listener, engrossed in his attention to the music. His right elbow rested on the pew before me, his hand resting on his chin, as if deep in thought. I could actually hear his wind-up wristwatch ticking in time to the morbid music. It took my breath away. It seemed as if the watch was in synch with the Brahms, confirming the shortness of human life on Earth. The countdown clock was ticking for those with an ear to hear.
Were the Connies rude? That was the least of it! They’d totally missed what Brahms had labored to communicate to us from an earlier century. What a loss.
Were they correct in their technical assessments? Maybe, so far as it went. I wouldn’t know. Because I was listening for the music, not the mistakes. This was my choice.
I made this decision at Interlochen while attending student concerts there. On the one hand, I realized, I could listen with my physical ears, focusing on the limitations of amateur musicians. But that approach would have driven me crazy. I’d have made myself miserable.
On the other hand, I could listen with the heart. I could open myself to what the composer heard with the inner ear and done his best to express in the language of music. I could admire the energy of enthusiastic, sincere students who loved the music and were doing their very best, however imperfectly, to measure up to it. That was the beneficial path of gratitude and enjoyment.
In the English language, we use the same word for both the piece of paper upon which physical notes are printed . . . the sheet music . . . and for the music itself. In contrast, in the German language of the Requiem, two different words are used to distinguish between the notation and the actual sound.
Just so, I agreed with myself not to worry so much for the technical notes, but instead to focus on the actual music. I chose to listen with the inner ear to hear what the composer intended and what merely human musicians labored to recreate. Here Brahms was reminding us with his dark, brooding music that mankind, as numerous as blades of grass on the face of the earth, is perilously mortal. Like flowers, all human greatness ultimately comes to naught.
But the Connies missed it in their chit chat, hearing only with their physical ears.
This memory serves to illustrate the choices available for approaching Rethinking Survival. It’s my best hope that readers will meet me half way — that they’ll focus not on the book’s technical mistakes but on its substance and value. This book is about survival in the very literal sense of the term. And like the Requiem, it balances short-term warnings with long-term hope. Brahms completes his reminder of mortality with the confirmation of immortality: “The word of the Lord endures for eternity.” Rethinking Survival mirrors this balance.
In short, what I’m offering is the very best I could do given limited time and finite resources. For the sake of the message, I urge readers to forgive an imperfect messenger for the sake of the message. Because what you see is what you get — either a powerful paradigm or a less than perfect physical book. Your choice.