Lynne has just shared an absolutely riveting article with me, “Second Nature: “Your Personality Isn’t Necessarily Set in Stone.” It comes from the current issue of Psychology Today (April 2008). What especially caught my attention was a remarkable story of optimism in action.
David Fajgenbaum, a freshman at Georgetown University, was faced with the predicament of a mother dying of brain cancer. Rather than avoid this fact by escaping into the whirlwind of college activities, he spent every weekend with his family. Even more significant, he had an inspiration. Because there was no on-campus counseling for grieving students, he established a support group, Students of Ailing Mothers and Fathers. It soon expanded into some 20 chapters and has come to serve high school kids as well. This is an unforgettable example of the way human beings can transcend grief through dedicating themselves to extending comfort to others.
Two of the great composers of the 19th-century, Johannes Brahms and Gabriel Faure, each wrote masterpieces of musical consolation, unique settings of the Requiem after similar losses. Instead of focusing on the usual fire and brimstone of divine judgment, their music transports us to world of serenity, a calming world for the survivors of personal loss.
Brahms began working on his monumental A German Requiem around 1865. Although he said that he had “the whole of humanity in mind,” it is clear that the deaths of his beloved mentor Robert Schumann and then his mother were precipitating factors, intensifying his feelings about both the dead and, more important, the living. Rather than follow the traditional Catholic liturgy, it draws upon such sources as the psalms, prophetic writings, and The Gospels. The general tone of the work is set in the opening movement, which begins with the following quotation from The Gospel According to St Matthew: “Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”
The year 1888 saw the premiere performance in Paris of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, a work written in the shadow of his father’s death. Like the Brahms, it is sublimely serene, even though the text comes from the Catholic liturgy. One of its movements, “Pie Jesu” (“Lord, have mercy, Lord, have mercy. You who take away the sins of the world, grant them peace.”) has taken on a life of its own with its otherworldly sound.
Peace and comfort will await you when you immerse yourself in this music, music which has inspired singers and listeners alike for well over a century. Open yourself to its transcendent beauty. Savor the experience and allow it to suggest ways you might, like David Fajgenbaum, transform your loss into some positive action.