During his “convalescing,” I lay on the couch with one of my boys and brushed the hair back from his little head. We were listening to a new record acquisition, a compilation of classical music meant for children. He was feeling so awful but particularly liked a piece by Bach (Cello Suite, No. 1, Prelude). He said it made him feel “better inside,” because he “didn’t think once about being sick” when he was listening to it.
And so I told him Mr. Bach’s story. I told my little son how this young man was born into a family of musicians and that he likely understood the language of music long before he could speak. I told him how tragedy struck and left young Johann Sebastian an orphan at only 10. I told my son of Bach’s acceptance to a prestigious music school at only 14 and we wondered together how he felt when he got the news. Was wishing that he could share this his happiness with his parents?
My little boy marveled to hear that Bach had worked for a Duke who threw him in jail over a disagreement and then for the Prince who released him. My young man was shocked to hear that Mr. Bach was papa to 20 children and that some of those children would have lived in the prince’s castle and played in his gardens. Bach was so proud of all of those children, and often bragged of their number and musical abilities. His family enjoyed many musical evenings playing together. “Like us, mama, only BIGGER!”
Holding my sick little boy, I was so saddened to think that 10 of Bach’s children died at a very young age. What is a simple sickness today was then a very real danger. I am always amazed by the steadfast faith of that man who, after seeing so many of his children die, could even yet sign each of his pieces, “Soli Deo Gloria,” – “To the Glory of God.”
I listened with my son to Bach’s music, and I thought how it would have hurt that loving father to know that his remaining sons quarreled so bitterly after his death that they went their separate ways and left their mother, his devoted wife and helper, to live on charity and die a pauper’s death.
But here’s the thing…
From a life so touched by sadness and tragedy sprang such beautiful music, music that CHANGED music, music that changed people, music that changed history and the world itself. I wonder if his music would have been the same, meant so much, were it not flavored with the salt of tears.
At this moment, Bach’s music plays among the stars, aboard the Voyager, as a testament to all that is human – the beauty that grows from the fertile ground of sorrow. All of the pain and joy of that one life, lived out some 300 years ago, has been distilled down to music worthy of the heavens.
I tell you all of this now for the same reason I told it to my sick little man … because it is a tale that helps me to remember that the holes left in us by sickness, pain and tragedy are there to make room for the glory and the joy. Sometimes we don’t understand how and why bad things happen in our world, but I refuse to believe that it is in punishment, or that it is because we have an unfeeling God. I believe that the suffering is only a prelude for the music.
To the people of Haiti, I hope that the joy comes quickly and that it far surpasses the weight of the pain.