Art is often thought to be a luxury, the province of people who sip wine and muse about brushstrokes at gallery openings. But it can also sustain through difficult times, even times of what might be unbearable agony.
In an interview on NPR, Julliard-trained violinist Romel Joseph described being trapped under the rubble of the music school he started (almost unbelievably, the earthquake struck ten years to the day that a fire had destroyed the school, after which Joseph rebuilt) unable to move. He developed a ritual: twenty minutes an hour were devoted to prayer and meditation, then he "performed" selected favorite pieces of music in his head.
"For example, if I play the Franck sonata, which is thirty-five minutes long in my honors recital at Julliard, then I would bring myself to that time. That allows me to not only kill time, but also to take me out of the mental space where I was." He was freed, but his wife, pregnant with their first child, did not survive. In his interview, his resolve to rebuild the school was stronger than his grief. Art will sustain him.
Last night my children and I watched the Hope for Haiti Telethon. The music was so extraordinary that even I could not be a cynic (although I did miss Springsteen's version of We Shall Overcome, which might have tried my anti-boomer tendencies) and several times I was moved to tears. My daughter and I are anxiously awaiting the iTunes download, and I know it will be in constant rotation in my car music. There will be many who will say a bunch of celebrities getting together for a cause is just self-aggrandizing, but for me listening to truly brilliant musicians putting their gifts to use with little or no rehearsal was transporting.
There has never been a time in my life when fiction has not been a refuge. Growing up in a tiny, freezing town in the middle of nowhere, I would trudge through the snow to the little local library and would find Howard Fast or James Michener and go to Hawaii or wherever they were inclined to take me. Now I can read a book review in the New Yorker and order it on Amazon, but more than likely I'll run to the Barnes & Noble two minutes from my house to find an escape because I need one right now. This typically happens when I've had a bad week at work or am brooding about the sorry state of my love life and how it isn't likely to improve.
I don't know what people who don't read or paint or love music do when the world throws them a bad day or a terrible blow. But I am grateful that I have a lot of friends who will stop conversation to listen to a guitar riff. They are also the ones who will ask me what I am reading and know the answer won't be short. Those who understand that when we visit one another we'll put the local art museums on the itinerary so we can catch up and at the same time look at something someone has created with their heart and soul. Then we grow a little while talking about it. So later, in the face of something difficult, we remember there is plenty of beauty in the world.