Recently, I stumbled on an arrangement of Ravel's "Bolero" that sent me back to 1969, to the first time I heard it.
This stark, minimalist interpretation, including the conductor's deportment, conveys what I experienced long ago...
A weekend on River Rd, off of County Hwy A, 9 miles east of Tomahawk, Wisconsin, maybe 200 yards from the Wisconsin River... Grandpa had found just the right spot on a small hillside, southern exposure, overlooking a natural 1.5 acre pond, thick north woods rising up from it all around... closing in the house that they would move into (and eventually where Mom and Dad would live for 30 years).
Late Fall, cold, darkly overcast, drippy day, leaves brown and fluttering down from trees already half bare... the largest sound - the slow rain making its way to the forest floor; the smell of damp, decomposing, mixed with the ever pleasant sweet pine; Grandpa off to town for supplies...
My Grandmother and I holed up in the Avion trailer... a good afternoon for an absorbing book, coffee and a smoke, maybe a game of cards. At the tiny living room end, she struggles through her cataracts to light a Pall Mall... struggles again to set the needle down gently on the 33 rpm record.
Ravel's Bolero, she said, was one of her favorites. I sat in silence, almost reverently, as she became absorbed in the music. It captivated me as well.
My sister inherited her painting skills. There is not an artistic gene in my body, but I loved Grandma for her painting, her music, her taste in classical literature. I still have some of her books, special editions that she had collected.
Bolero connects me with thoughts that may not have occurred to Monsieur Ravel. I think I am crazy sometimes (I have been slower to pick up on this than people who know me). Anyway, I accept the memory of it as a gift...
It creeps along at first with a sense of life as a series of diverse experiences -some ordinary, some not so- connected always by an underlying theme as one round bleeds into another, driven by a controlled relentlessness, building to a harmoniously glorious finish. Symmetry in music that answers some intrinsic yearning for symmetry in life... from thence, I believe, Bolero’s popularity.
Whether we have a belief system that includes God or not, it seems that much of what we strive for, what we define as good or right, the extremes we go to to justify our existence, compose a sort of undeclared confession of a need for a larger, underlying governance, a meaning for our fleeting presence in the universe.
If we are lucky, there will have been a few crescendo moments by the end of our lives... something like Bolero's climax, or the final scene in the movie, "The Natural" (Robert Redford), the birth of a child, closing a lucrative business deal...
Many people may get to the end with no crescendo moments ever having come their way.
I suspect that even people with a trophy case, a wall of diplomas and recognitions, maybe a page or two in a history book, must come to a point where it is not enough. Seeking the high of a crescendo moment dangerously narrows our perspective regarding a transcendent meaning or purpose for our life. The thing that consumed us for so many years could merely turn into a transitory high, a memory, an obsession that warped and shrunk our being into a uni-faceted caricature of what it should mean to be a person.
What if it were possible to extend the concept of symmetry beyond a struggle to attain crescendo moments to the totality of life? What if all the pieces could fit together in such a way that nothing were ever out of balance, even in tragedy and death? What if there really were a "unified theory of everything?"
The symmetry we intuitively seek on a personal level, in order to be attained, would need to derive from a quantifiable symmetry at the "big picture" level. Without that, the quest would be for an illusory "something" that would constantly be thwarted by forces not remotely in our domain to restrain or influence.
I am getting old. Now more than ever, I need to know that my life, as insignificant as it is, has been in balance with the big picture. If there is a supreme "reason" for my being, I want to be in harmony with that.
My quest for symmetry ended when I discovered the Lord Jesus Christ… more appropriately, when He allowed me to discover Him. He is the unifying reason -the explanation- for everything. God…beauty… harmony… reconciliation… completion. He is the author of the ultimate crescendo moment, one that “Bolero” cannot compete with… when... "Death is swallowed up in victory." (1Cor. 15:54)
If you have not met Him yet, I hope you will soon.
(first published Feb 25, 2011)
Greg grew up in Menomonee Falls, WI. His ministry began in 1976: 5 years in Central America, 36 in Mexico. Church planting and discipleship have been his passion.
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." -Matthew 13:44
Concise devotions in Spanish and English, along with some lengthier essays… Designed for personal spiritual growth and to help anyone studying English or Spanish as a second language to improve their skills… Rev 14:6
To highlight one essential facet of the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ... Rev 14:6; 2 Cor. 5:18