I have the joy of being able to tell you that, though deaf and blind, I spent a glorious hour last night listening over the radio to Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.” I do not mean to say that I “heard” the music in the sense that other people heard it; and I do not know whether I can make you understand how it was possible for me to derive pleasure from the symphony. It was a great surprise to myself…
What was my amazement to discover that I could feel, not only the vibrations, but also the impassioned rhythm, the throb and the urge of the music! The intertwined and intermingling vibrations from different instruments enchanted me. I could actually distinguish the cornets, the roll of the drums, deep-toned violas and violins singing in exquisite unison. How the lovely speech of the violins flowed and plowed over the deepest tones of the other instruments! When the human voice leaped up trilling from the surge of harmony, I recognized them instantly as voices. I felt the chorus grow more exultant, more ecstatic, upcurving swift and flame-like, until my heart almost stood still.
And so you might know me truer and truly, my darling, I gather through us
these glimpses of faces of flowers aglow wholetheway beside unfinished trails of mind between bursts of cla-ri-ty —
barely marked trails over which, so in love and distressed, we pass in pieces, dust off the wings —
and these too are faces who turn open, draft by draft, to ease us as we come back to the world, as we must,
whatever it is, whatever we are
It was early in the morning, but he knew exactly what was happening in his chest and woke my mother to ask her to call an ambulance. Our telephone was in the living room, but before she could leave their bedroom to use it, he asked for something else. My father asked that the ambulance not use its siren.
Weeks later, when the fear of death had receded like some strange tide, my mother asked him about the siren. My father said simply that he worried it would have woken and frightened his three sleeping daughters. It is true that we were all light sleepers and that our farm was usually blanketed by the polite silence that comes from having no close neighbors, but what impossible kindness there was in my father’s request.
I have called it an act of kindness, which I think it was. It was considerate in a way I cannot begin to understand; generous in a way no one would expect, much less demand. Years later I still do not comprehend how in what very well might have been the final moments of his life, my father thought to ask for quiet so that his daughters might continue sleeping.
Kindness is like holding an ice cube in your hands. It stings, but then the cold dissolves; what at first you could barely hold becomes something you cannot let go. My father’s request for a quiet ambulance came from a man so familiar with kindness that the sting was completely gone: the ice was no longer cold, but one with the flesh.
Henry James, it turns out, was right.
Do your soul a favor and read Cep’s full essay.