Believing things to be true because one wishes them to be true is a prime malady of the human condition. It is an opposite of objectivity, reflecting a shortfall of intellectual honesty. It has led to wars, famines and other guarantors of human suffering.
Meditation for Tuesday of Week 24 in the season of Ripening
You may think that someone does not have anything to offer. If you look closely, you will see that virtually everyone does. The simplest person can make a contribution though an observation or a quality that no one else knows or thinks to express. For example, sometimes the person whose honesty has not been suppressed is the one who will remind that community of a shared value. The act or comment is not always valuable or welcome but sometimes it is.
Human societies thrive on diversity. That is why each person’s unique contribution is important.
I cannot describe hands under any class or type; there is no democracy of hands. Some hands tell me that they do everything with the maximum of bustle and noise. Other hands are fidgety and unadvised, with nervous, fussy fingers which indicate a nature sensitive to the little pricks of daily life. Sometimes I recognize with foreboding the kindly but stupid hand of one who tells with many words news that is no news. I have met a bishop with a jocose hand, a humourist with a hand of leaden gravity, a man of pretentious valour with a timorous hand, and a quiet, apologetic man with a fist of iron. When I was a little girl I was taken to see a woman who was blind and paralysed. I shall never forget how she held out her small, trembling hand and pressed sympathy into mine. My eyes fill with tears as I think of her. The weariness, pain, darkness, and sweet patience were all to be felt in her thin, wasted, groping, loving hand. [Helen Keller, The World I Live In (1907), chapter II, “The Hands of Others.”]
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Berio, Sequenzas: A series of fourteen musical monologues, each for a solo instrument. Similar to each other in style and theme, these distinctly twentieth-century musical vignettes (you won’t be humming any tunes) demonstrate the unique voice and character of each featured instrument.
- Sequenza 1 for flute
- Sequenza 2 for harp
- Sequenza 3 for woman’s voice
- Sequenza 4 for piano
- Sequenza 5 for trombone
- Sequenza 6 for viola
- Sequenza 7 for oboe
- Sequenza 8 for violin
- Sequenza 9a for clarinet
- Sequanza 9b for saxophone
- Sequenza 10 for trumpet in C and piano resonance
- Sequenza 11 for guitar
- Sequenza 12 for bassoon
- Sequenza 13 for accordion “Chanson”
- Lou Harrison was a modern composer who left us with a collection of works for three relatively ancient instruments: harpsichord, tack piano, and fortepiano. No other composer has taken quite that approach.
- Flagello, Divertimento for Piano & Percussion (1960)
- Atterberg, String Quartet No. 2 in B minor, Op. 11 (1918)
- Balada, Concerto for Four Guitars & Orchestra (1976)
Every artist is unique, as is every person. Many people can identify their favorite popular singer in a few notes, and classical aficionados can identify performers who sound alike to most people. Billie Holliday’s voice was not merely unique; it was distinctive. Her early performances illustrate the idea of honoring uniqueness. Here is the complete Billie Holliday on Columbia, 1933-1944.
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Beethoven, Für Elise, Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor, WoO 59, a bagatelle with a sense of mystery, composed in homage to a woman Beethoven knew
It was the twilight of the iguana:
From a rainbowing battlement, / a tongue like a javelin / lunging in verdure; / an ant heap treading the jungle, / monastic, on musical feet; / the guanaco, oxygen-fine / in the high places swarthed with distances, / cobbling his feet into gold; / the llama of scrupulous eye / the widens his gaze on the dews / of a delicate world.
A monkey is weaving / a thread of insatiable lusts / on the margins of morning: / he topples a pollen-fall, / startles the violet-flght / of the butterfly, wings on the Muzo.
It was the night of the alligator: / snouts moving out of the slime, / in original darkness, the pullulations, / a clatter of armour, opaque / in the sleep of the bog, / turning back to the chalk of the sources.
The jaguar touches the leaves / with his phosphorous absence, / the puma speeds to his covert / in the blaze of his hungers, / his eyeballs, a jungle of alcohol, / burn in his head.
[Pablo Neruda, “Some Beasts”]
I marvel how Nature could ever find space
For so many strange contrasts in one human face:
There's thought and no thought, and there's paleness and bloom
And bustle and sluggishness, pleasure and gloom.
There's weakness, and strength both redundant and vain;
Such strength as, if ever affliction and pain
Could pierce through a temper that's soft to disease,
Would be rational peace--a philosopher's ease.
There's indifference, alike when he fails or succeeds,
And attention full ten times as much as there needs;
Pride where there's no envy, there's so much of joy;
And mildness, and spirit both forward and coy.
There's freedom, and sometimes a diffident stare
Of shame scarcely seeming to know that she's there,
There's virtue, the title it surely may claim,
Yet wants heaven knows what to be worthy the name.
This picture from nature may seem to depart,
Yet the Man would at once run away with your heart;
And I for five centuries right gladly would be
Such an odd such a kind happy creature as he.
[William Wordsworth, “A Character”]
Sister Simplice was white, with a waxen pallor. Beside Sister Perpétue, she was the taper beside the candle. Vincent de Paul has divinely traced the features of the Sister of Charity in these admirable words, in which he mingles as much freedom as servitude: "They shall have for their convent only the house of the sick; for cell only a hired room; for chapel only their parish church; for cloister only the streets of the town and the wards of the hospitals; for enclosure only obedience; for gratings only the fear of God; for veil only modesty." This ideal was realized in the living person of Sister Simplice: she had never been young, and it seemed as though she would never grow old. No one could have told Sister Simplice's age. She was a person--we dare not say a woman--who was gentle, austere, well-bred, cold, and who had never lied. She was so gentle that she appeared fragile; but she was more solid than granite. She touched the unhappy with fingers that were charmingly pure and fine. There was, so to speak, silence in her speech; she said just what was necessary, and she possessed a tone of voice which would have equally edified a confessional or enchanted a drawing-room. This delicacy accommodated itself to the serge gown, finding in this harsh contact a continual reminder of heaven and of God. Let us emphasize one detail. Never to have lied, never to have said, for any interest whatever, even in indifference, any single thing which was not the truth, the sacred truth, was Sister Simplice's distinctive trait; it was the accent of her virtue. She was almost renowned in the congregation for this imperturbable veracity. The Abbé Sicard speaks of Sister Simplice in a letter to the deaf-mute Massieu. However pure and sincere we may be, we all bear upon our candor the crack of the little, innocent lie. She did not. Little lie, innocent lie--does such a thing exist? To lie is the absolute form of evil. To lie a little is not possible: he who lies, lies the whole lie. To lie is the very face of the demon. Satan has two names; he is called Satan and Lying. That is what she thought; and as she thought, so she did. The result was the whiteness which we have mentioned--a whiteness which covered even her lips and her eyes with radiance. Her smile was white, her glance was white. There was not a single spider's web, not a grain of dust, on the glass window of that conscience. On entering the order of Saint Vincent de Paul, she had taken the name of Simplice by special choice. Simplice of Sicily, as we know, is the saint who preferred to allow both her breasts to be torn off rather than to say that she had been born at Segesta when she had been born at Syracuse--a lie which would have saved her. This patron saint suited this soul. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume I – Fantine; Book Seventh – The Champnathieu Affair, Chapter I, Sister Semplice.]