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May 2, 2013
I have little patience for people who go on about not listening to the news because it’s “too upsetting.” Like we’re not supposed to be upset, ever. I do not hold with that: No, your pyramid of apples at the fruit stand should not be upset. Neither should the cat upset your good crystal vase so that it crashes to the floor and breaks into a thousand glittering shards. I hope your toddler doesn’t upset his glass of milk when you take him to a restaurant.

But you and me? We should be upset sometimes. We should become angry at injustice and cruelty, angry enough to do something good about it, and we can’t do that if we do not allow ourselves even to hear about it.

And yet. And yet…lately even I have found myself hiding from bad news in music. I listen to the news in order to inform my prayer and invoke my conscience. I read the newspaper. Then, when the sorrow and dread of it becomes too heavy for me to bear, I turn to WQXR. There I hear the voices of people who have honed their instruments to perfection for years, performing music by the composers of ages past. And some newer stuff, too – I’m broad-minded where music is concerned.

The night they caught the Boston Marathon bombers, I listened to the radio all night. In and out of a fitful sleep I drifted, as news of the MIT officer’s death and the elder brother’s death came through my earphones, as the city of Boston shut down, as a desperate young man – Why desperate? What on earth was going on with him? – stumbled wounded through the dark streets looking for – What? A place to hide? Someone else to kill? What?

The next day I knew it had been too much. It was too much like the days following 9/11. I was haunted by it and the terrible cloak of other memories it gathered around itself, and “haunted” is not a good platform for helpful action of any kind. Mad, sure. Sad, yes. But not haunted. When I got in the car I ditched NPR and pressed the button for WQXR. Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” greeted me, and I listened as I drove, arriving at the church before it was over and sitting in the car until it was. I thought I might just get through the day.

An active moral balance is hard for me to achieve – me and a lot of people. I have no desire to be a puddle of contentment with no goals in life beyond those immediately connected with my own well-being. But I cannot be of use if I allow myself to be buried alive in the anxieties and sorrows of the world.

So then, music. Morning prayer in a lingering way. A look around the garden, and at the bird feeders. The news, too, and a renewed resolve to be an active part of the good in this beautiful world.


Do you know “The Lark Ascending?” It is such a beautiful piece, so soaked in the loveliness of springtime. Here it is:
And you can listen to my WQXR online, if you like:
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