In the last couple of years, it seems that society has become more unsettled and polarized. I am not sure of a specific reason – in fact, I can think of many reasons – why this is happening but thinking and pondering about this has taken me back to a novel, “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, which earned him a Nobel Prize in 1962.
Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they are trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other “Okies”, they seek jobs, land, dignity, and a future. The book does not end well in modern terms. A rain storm wipes out the precarious dwelling of the family and the Joads’ young girl, Rose of Sharon, who is pregnant, gives birth to a stillborn child. However, the family finds refuge in a nearby barn, the only dry place they could find. In the barn they find a young boy and his starving father. They have nothing and the father is dying of starvation. At this moment, Rose of Sharon decides to give her own milk to the man, now that she cannot use it for her stillborn child. A fitting ending of hope in a marred-by-tragedy book.
Growing up, my parents always taught me about hope. They always told me there is hope even in the most difficult circumstances. But they also taught me and my brother to be honest, live with integrity, and respect others. And so, my brother and I have been teaching our children the same principles, knowing full well, like my parents knew, that in the end we make our own choices and find our own way through life. I can say that so far, both my brother’s children and mine have been pretty good. Not perfect or exempt from mistakes, trials, personal challenges and even tragedy. But good. They have stuck to those teachings and have lived within those good principles and values all this time. I wish they continue that way and be able to appreciate the sense of inner peace that this way of living brings. It is a way of living that I compare to an inner music – a harmony of sorts – that makes an individual find direction even in the most difficult circumstances. It is a music filled with faith (in oneself, in society, possibly in a God), hope (in a better world, better society, better people), and love (for others, for this life, for nature). This music has guided me all these years, even when I have made mistakes and have faced challenges. I have felt it and continue to feel it as I go along life towards whatever future is in store for me.
I have also learned that I need to be the writer of the music to feel it inside me. This would be no different than what a music composer would do. He would write a line, try it, maybe change it completely or just slightly, or even keep it as is and then start the next line. The process would start again. And again. And again. At times the composer would feel elated at the harmony he has created and feel that everything is just right and perfect. Other times he would feel frustrated at the inability to find that group of notes or even that one note that would make the line shine.
I certainly learned that I cannot write my music and even help others writing theirs if the noise is too much. Yelling and screaming – and not just physically – shuts down the music and invites cacophony and noise.
Well, there is too much noise today. The noise of “I am right so you must be wrong”. Or “if you are not with me then you are against me.” The reality is that the world today is in need of music like never before. By fostering cacophony and noise, we turn off the harmony of life. And there are too many that are unable to cope with that. Too many that do not have the means to live their own music because of challenges and circumstances. They say that when we are faced with death, we start turning off the noise and look for the music. By then it may be too late. We need to write our own music now.