There are times when a person may experience something truly and literally incomprehensible — that is, something the meaning of which the mind cannot fully grasp. Different experiences may evoke various feelings, but incomprehensibility is a glaze that dissolves focus even while you may be single-mindedly riveted by what is occurring. When everything you know is wrong, you feel separated from any sense of understanding the world, and that throws you for a loop. All your regular points of reference are washed over by waves of confusion and shock until they are worn down to a rubble of questions about things that no longer fit neatly together as they once seemed to. Mind boggling, world shattering: overhyped colloquialisms that today describe an indigestible daily reality.
Now multiply that effect by hundreds of millions, even billions. It is nothing less than a global wrench in consciousness.
How can a planet thrown so off-kilter begin to search for balance? There are many good answers, but I believe one of the best is music. Music speaks internationally and can be eloquent in any language. Music expresses feelings and thoughts in ways that words alone cannot. Music reaches into the heart to touch the spirit, and that is where healing begins.
Clear Channel Communications' idea of issuing a list of songs its radio stations should not play in the wake of the September 11 attacks may have been presented as a desire to avoid further hurt, but what is needed is exactly the opposite. Perhaps certain music will upset some people, and it is even possible that music could provoke people to bad actions, but the power of music to draw people together and remind them of the miracle of humanity is far greater and more important. It is not worth risking the baby by throwing out the bathwater.
A Bach sonata, Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Ravi Shankar spinning a flowing raga, a silky samba, the ancient voices and drums of the Middle East or Africa or an anguished Chicago blues — all can transport people to a place where themes of life are set forth, embellished, and woven into a fabric in which each of us is but a thread, and those of us no longer here leave holes that may appear small from the viewpoint of the entire fabric but are huge and gaping from the perspective of the strands around them.
Music helps people relate that which is clearly beyond them to that which they see, do, and feel every day. This connection, where the cosmic, cerebral, physical, and emotional converge, is a genuine meeting of the spirit, and it is this process — and the awareness that it is happening — that can help us begin to regain our balance. Although the old mix of elements has been destroyed, a new mix will be created.
Whether you are a player, a listener, or a dancer, this is a good time to listen to music that touches you. Find solace in favorite music you know and discover new perspectives in music you have not heard before. If you make music, let it take you where it wants to go. Sit down and lose yourself in it or let it play behind whatever else you're doing. Don't be afraid to understand other people; you can do it by listening to their music.
Regaining balance is only the start of what must happen in the world from this point, but it is a crucial first step. I make no claim to know the Right Thing to Do, but I know that any hope of wisdom for charting our course from today will be strengthened by balance. The greatest global coalition will happen as different people around the world become aware that they can develop a bond. Fear is a powerful motivator for cooperation, but understanding fosters joining together, and that is a stronger force.
I can say nothing in the six or seven hundred words of this column that could make any real difference, but almost anything that could make a difference can be said in a few well-played notes. They may not explain the incomprehensible, but they can provide a picture of life that includes the incomprehensible, and that's a beginning.