Empty hands. Full heart.
I just spent a weekend away, making music, creating beauty, and it was rich and glorious and beyond wonderful. I returned home yesterday afternoon, feeling fulfilled in a way that few other experiences can offer.
But the thing about making music is that I have nothing, no product, to bring home and show my husband and my children.
I have nothing to give them – no evidence I can display and say:
“See this beauty, look at this art I created while I was away for three days, while you cared for our children without me, while I spent our hard-earned money, while you missed me and I missed you. This is what I created; isn’t it beautiful?”
Music is a living organism. Unlike a painting or a novel, which is set down on canvas or paper for the viewer to come and experience over and over, the making of music happens once, and then it is over, and afterward it lives only in our memories. We can record it for posterity, but the experience of the music as a living thing will never happen in the exact same way again.
And because of that one singular life, the music becomes all the more precious, not only for those who listen, but also – and perhaps, especially – for those who make the music.
We have become a family, our little choir. We come together in Dallas twice a year, from all over the world, having learned our music on our own. We rehearse and we share meals and we laugh and cry, and we savor the wonder of not only what it is we are attempting to do, but the fact that we are actually doing it.
We are creating beauty, and people are coming to listen to this beauty – paying money to do so – and we have even spent our own time and money to be there. And every one of us believes it is utterly worthwhile. If we didn’t, it wouldn’t be happening.
At one point in the weekend, our beloved director said, “How I wish we could do this every week.” We all nodded our heads longingly in agreement.
And yet I think there is something about the scarcity of our time together that makes it all the more special. If we did it every week, would we really value the enormity and rarity of this gift that we’ve been given?
Near my home here in Austin, a friend of a friend painted the words, “Beauty will save the world” on the backside of their fence, quoting from Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Idiot. The words face out onto a busy arterial street, in a part of the city that struggles with gangs, drugs, and prostitution, full of strip malls, pawn shops, and payday loan offices; in other words, it is the opposite of beauty.
I love this fence. It’s a subversive, guerrilla act of love and faith in the midst of something ugly and broken. We were driving past not long after it went up, and I pointed it out to my daughter Molly, age six.
Ever the literalist, as most children are, Molly screwed up her little face in confusion. “Beauty will not save the world. God will save the world!” she exclaimed.
“Yes, but what is God? Who is God?” I asked slowly, pointedly, mentally willing her to connect the dots.
Her frown faded as her eyes widened in delight, her dimples deepening as though she had just discovered a secret. “God IS beauty,” she said happily, and I smiled. Yes. Yes.
I have nothing to show for my time in Dallas – no product I created, nothing you can quantify or measure. I have only empty hands and a full heart.
But during those two days together, my choir created beauty. The people that came to listen to us participated in that beauty. And whether in large or small ways, every one of us was changed afterward for the better. And that is why we do it. That is why it is utterly worthwhile. Beauty will save the world.