Why We No Longer Hear Angels - and a Few Words about Tennis, Chess, Prison & the Healing Power of Classical Music
If you’ve ever visited the circus or a city like San Francisco, then you know a barker is someone who stands outside a theater or sideshow and calls out to passersby to get them interested in what's happening inside the tent. The word comes to mind just now because there seems to be a lot of barking in the public arena these days. And a lot of braying too. All of it a distraction from the things that probably matter most to you—if you haven’t been too distracted by all that noise to figure out what that is.
So, let me depart from my usual commentary in order to share a few things I found touching recently, which you may find interesting too.
WHY WE NO LONGER HEAR ANGELS
The following clip is from Faraway, So Close—a beautiful 1993 film by Wim Wenders, which I heard about this year from a writer friend on Twitter. At only two minutes and fifteen seconds, this bit of dialogue gets to the core of why all that barking can be harmful. It depicts a telepathic conversation between two angels, Raphaela (Nastassja Kinski) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), as they consider why it’s so difficult for their guidance to reach us the way it used to back in the day.
HOMELESS CHESS CHAMPION
The second thing I'd like to tell you about is the homeless third grader who recently won the New York State chess championship for his age group—after only one year of study. He's a Nigerian refugee, and his name is Tanitoluwa "Tani" Adewumi. I was especially moved by the strength of his faith and its role as the central principle of his life.
After I saw this piece on CBS This Morning, I happened across a passage from Hebrews (11:1), which bears repeating. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And I wondered if the difference between Tani and most adults is that he still has the ability to choose faith instead of fear.
If this sounds far-fetched, consider Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on the point: “A man’s life is the history of his fears.”
That’s the trouble with all the barking we see in the news these days. It’s all aimed at getting us to focus on the negative, to put faith in our fears. When we could just as easily emulate that little chess champion and remember one of Emily Dickinson's most helpful poems: “I dwell in Possibility – A fairer House than Prose.” You know how that one ends, don't you? With small hands that gather paradise.
Incidentally, Tani and his family are not homeless anymore. A GoFundMe has raised $200 thousand for them and paid the family’s rent for a year. As American Idol “loser” Jennifer Hudson said when she accepted her Oscar a year later: “Look what God can do.”
ALEXIS OHANIAN's NOTE TO SELF
And while we’re on the subject of possibility, consider the story of a tennis-hating boy who became an internet millionaire and married one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Here's Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian via CBS This Morning
TERUN MOORE'S VERY DIFFERENT MESSAGE TO HIS YOUNGER SELF
There is a dark side to this post, which is no less moving than the others. It’s the story of Terun Moore, who is getting a second chance after serving 19 years in prison for a murder committed when he was a minor. Originally sentenced to life in prison, he was recently released after the Supreme Court ruled against mandatory lifetime prison sentences without parole for minors in 2012. In this “Brief but Spectacular Moment” from the PBS NewsHour, he too has advice for his younger self. Roughly the same age as Ohannian, his life story reminds me of something the late Joseph Campbell once wrote. “Regret is enlightenment come too late.” And yet, there is hope for Terun Moore. At 36, he has three plusses that were unavailable to him at 17: maturity, tragic experience, and the benefit of hindsight. Let's hope he makes the most of them.
CUTTING PAST THE SNOBBERY FOR A YEAR OF CLASSICAL WONDER
When I was a young newscaster trying to find my proper path in life, I found it deeply disturbing to be the conduit of the day's daily dose of negativity. During that time, I discovered a helpful antidote in classical music. This was the so-called "long-hair stuff" I'd been exposed to as a child but did not listen to on a regular basis. Although I had rediscovered the music as part of the Western Civilization requirement in college, I began to listen to it in earnest after moving to San Francisco, where there were two classical music radio stations on the FM dial. One day, I found a Deutsche Gramophone boxed set of Beethoven's Five Piano Concertos in a used book store. And I made it my business to find out why this music was still being played more than a century after Beethoven's death. There must be something uniquely beneficial in it, I thought. Something you can't get anywhere else. And I'm going to find out what it is.
So I was delighted to hear recently about Clemency Burton-Hill's book, Year of Wonder: Classical Music for Every Day. It's the page-a-day-calendar version of classical pieces you can listen to a little at a time as a way of dipping your toe into the waters. The book was released in 2017, and after finding the following clip on the PBS NewsHour, I had to share it with you.
I'm fairly sure most if not all of the pieces mentioned in the book are available on Spotify. I've seen one or two comments on social media, which complain that you need a Spotify subscription to take full advantage of the book. But hey, we live in the age of YouTube. Most of the music I search for is readily available online somewhere.
What I like most about this book is that it takes the snobbery out of a genre that isn't meant to be snobbish at all.
I began this post by talking about angels in a Wim Wenders film. So, this book is a good way to bring the discussion full circle. Classical music will put you in touch with another dimension--far beyond the noise of circus-tent barkers and the negativity of daily life. It will feed, fortify, and awaken in you everything you need in order to hear angels again.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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