It is Sunday morning, and as is my habit, I have the radio in the kitchen tuned to classical IPR. As I eat my breakfast Baroque music fills the room.
It is Sunday, the day every two weeks when I am to submit to my editor my column that will appear next week. While I am reasonably sure that my editor is not watching her inbox for the arrival of my column, that she no doubt has better things to do, I have a lifelong habit of meeting deadlines whether imposed externally or internally as a means of getting work done. And so after breakfast I had intended to polish next week’s column, which is mostly ready for prime time.
But today is not any ordinary Sunday. It is the morning after not one, but two, mass shootings. I went to sleep trying to digest the news from El Paso, Texas, where 20 people were shot dead, and numerous more wounded, and woke up to hear that a lesser — if such a word makes sense in this context — shooting occurred in Dayton, Ohio, ending nine more lives and injuring still more.
For some reason, I leave the radio on while moving to the television room a few feet away to turn on the news. I am drawn to find out more, the way people it is said slow down to view the wreckage of automobile accidents. I guess I’m also seeking the elusive answer to the overwhelming question of why — why do these events occur, what is going on in the shooter’s head, or in the larger society, that makes these horrible events predictable, even while their frequency increases?
On my television, politicians speak the unspeakable, and try to make sense out of the senseless. What else are they going to do? They must try, but what can they say that gets to the heart of the phenomenon of gun violence in our country?
From the kitchen the music floats in. It provides not so much an answer to the question but a kind of response. Composed some 300 years ago, it does more than mingle with the tired words the television’s speakers offer. It insists upon intruding itself, to declare that in contrast to the current madness there is something that endures in spite of it, as it has through three centuries during which humans have again and again found motive and method to inflict unspeakable harm on each other through wars and other unfathomable acts of devastation, acts that in their profound and obscene ugliness defy logical explanation.
The music of the Baroque era is especially qualified to offer a counter argument to what seems to be the very human capacity for mindless depravity. I do not have the technical vocabulary to describe what I hear. But what I can say is that the music to my uninformed mind seems to be orderly, balanced, reasonable and yet still passionate. It says that the same human mind that is so well equipped to inspire irrational rage can also assert a sense of control that, while recognizing passion, shows how that emotion can be shaped into a creation both beautiful and enduring.
I turn off the television. I’ve heard enough. Instead, I turn my attention again to the music, this time a flute sonata by Frederick the Great, whose father wanted his son to concentrate on learning the skills of war while the son persisted in developing his appreciation for the ineffable harmonies of music.
The column I had intended to send to my editor can wait a while. This one came unbidden into my head this Sunday morning and demanded to be written.
Perhaps it solves nothing; yet it does say something.