What gives meaning to a life? I have been thinking about this since returning from visiting my 92-year old relative this past weekend who is weak and yet still lucid enough to send me off with an instruction to “take care of my family, take care of myself. . . and be happy.”
Is that all it takes? I take care of my family all the time, probably a little better than I take care of myself. But I think that last part about being happy is both the simplest and the hardest to carry out.
For example, I think one can DO lots of things to make yourself happy–and only we know what those things are that we especially treasure and enjoy. One of my discoveries of late is a “Rondo” movement of a Beethoven sonata played so tenderly and beautifully by a British pianist named Paul Lewis. (It’s the fourth movement of Sonata #4 in E-flat major, Op. 7.) G. and I went to a concert at Jordan Hall in Boston and heard Lewis play Schubert sonatas this January. Listening my way through these Beethoven recordings, I am amazed and taken aback by the freshness of the interpretations, so musical, clean and touching in its beauty of melody and line. Rapture is one way to describe it, I think.
[Here is a link to the piece on Youtube played by Daniel Alvadaras, someone other than Paul Lewis, but you can get a sense of the piece. Lewis’s rendition is available in the collected Beethoven sonatas.)
Actually, it has made me think about my mother and how important music was to her, all the way to the end. When asked why she went to the Unitarian Church that she had belonged to for decades when she said she didn’t believe in the afterlife, she answered simply, “for the music!” She sang in the choir and played recorder too, although she didn’t think that counting beats or measures was that important. I think one of her greatest wishes in life would have been to play an instrument as well as my sister played the violin and viola and I played the piano.
So, listening to Paul Lewis play this Beethoven “Rondo” makes me very happy today. DO-ing something like this makes me feel that BEING happy is a state of grace, whenever it appears. I am also struck by how individual our moments of happiness are. Someone else might not hear or experience what I am when I’m listening to this music. So many of the things around us that we cherish and enjoy are mere objects to other people. A line in a book or poem, flowers in a vase tilted in a certain direction; a meal, simple and warming may have meaning to us and make us happy but might not suit anyone else. But, if we’re happy, that’s a good thing.
Has something made you happy today?
Postscript: Icing on the cake tonight! Finding a YouTube clip of Paul Lewis and Imogen Cooper playing Schubert’s Fantasie in F minor. Luscious! Here it is!