Mortal Sphere

July 5, 2016

 

"I was once a little child, three years ago. That child who longed for other worlds. But now I am no more a child for I have learned to hate. I am a grown-up person now. I have known fear."

-Hanus Hachenburg, from "I never saw another butterfly" set to music by Ellwood Derr.

 

"By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night."

-James Agee, from "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" set to music by Samuel Barber

 

These are the two lines of text from the program of Mortal Sphere that led me to apply these works of music to the world's current migration crisis. Those words plus the picture of the little boy who drowned while trying to mirgrate out of Syria.

 

All three of these children are watched by us at the end of their childhood, and each one meets a very different end. 

 

As we look at today's migration crisis, I think it is helpful to look to the past for examples of how we did and did not help one another through other difficult times. The examples are endless, but I look here at the way the Nazi's elevated their own position in the world by putting down an entire other group of people. This was a hateful and desperate act, which came at a moment of extreme economic, social and cultural stress. What if the rest of the world had turned toward the problem earlier, rather than only after World War II and all its pain?

 

Syria, of course, is in a similarly stressful situation and its people are forced to flee and ask others for help. What if we gave that help more easily and more quickly? 

 

We learn from William Blake and Ralph Vaughan Williams that humans have two sides: the strong, moral and responsible, and the weak, afraid and evil. It is up to each of us and all of us to decide, together, which mode will prevail. The migration crisis of 2015 is an opportunity to choose the right way by learning from history.

 

In "I never saw another butterfly" I hear through the voices of these concentration camp-imprisoned children what it does to them when we shut them away and turn our backs. Like the little boy on the beach, their lives were taken away by the adults in their worlds. And it happened twice: when their innocence was broken, and when they were killed.

 

The text from Barber's "Knoxville" shows us a different way. And it is an opportunity that was given to my own father who was born in Nazi Germany but then able to raise his own children during a time of peace and in an American society. The Barber shows us that children and our entire future benefit from the civilized stability of Agee's Knoxville: We see the boy notice himself for the first time as a potential adult, and notice for the first time his parents' sacrifices and responsibilities. He sees that contentment is only right now in a meaningless moment that is allowed to exist because nothing got in its way. He sees his parent's future deaths and his own future responsibility, and he wishes for "his people" that it not be too difficult. 

 

This concert is my wish for the future: May the difficulties I feel we will face in climate change be met with openness and respectful care for one another, not with hate and oppression. 

 

 

 

 

 

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