Bad Soup

     “Only art and science show us the door to a higher existence.”
     That sentence from one of Beethoven’s letters was one of the few times the Master managed to be eloquent in words.
     I like it because Beethoven didn’t say that art or science can give us anything, or guarantee us anything – just show us a door.
     Monday is Beethoven’s 243rd birthday. I celebrate this every year because I believe Beethoven was, as the string quartet expert Hans Keller said, “perhaps humanity’s greatest mind.”
     Beethoven saved my life. He gave me consolation when I most needed it.
     In his “Heiligenstadt Testament,” a letter Beethoven wrote to his brothers when he was 31 – which he probably never sent, but was found in a hidden drawer in his desk after his death – Beethoven “confessed” that he was becoming deaf, and that it made him consider suicide. But he said he could not do it until he had accomplished all that he felt within him. Still … he was considering it.
     Beethoven dated the letter Oct. 6, 1802. Virtually all of his greatest works came after that: his third symphony to his ninth, written when he was profoundly deaf, his greatest string quartets and piano sonatas.
     I had the great good fortune many years ago to attend a master class given by Artur Rubinstein when he was 95. At the end, this Master told us: “You must keep playing music. When people get old, sometimes they get sad, and music is the only thing that can console them. So you must keep playing music.”
     Mr. Beethoven and Mr. Rubinstein were artists. Their job was to serve their art.
     Their job was not to improve the well-being of the sick and hungry, the crippled and outcast, the refugees and victims of rape, torture and war.
     But Beethoven and Rubinstein and their fellow artists do serve poor, suffering humanity far better than do today’s politicians, whose job it is to do that.
     President Jimmy Carter said: “If you don’t want your tax dollars to help the poor, then stop saying that you want a country based on Christian values – because you don’t.”
     Carter has done a lot to help suffering humanity since he left the White House. He hasn’t just piled up bucks in his bank account.
     Relieving suffering is a politician’s job. It’s not the job of an artist.
     Why is it that long-dead artists relieve our mental and spiritual suffering far better than do our living politicians, whose job it is to do that?
     The answer is obvious.
     Beethoven’s Emperor Franz did more to relieve human suffering in his few years on the throne than the U.S. Congress has done in this century.
     Franz did it because he acknowledged that his people were suffering, and it disturbed him, and he wanted to relieve the suffering. So he did.
     Congress has not done it because they don’t want to acknowledge that millions of Americans are suffering. It doesn’t seem to disturb them. They don’t seem to want to do anything about it, except blame the sufferers. So they don’t.
     A rather simple answer, I think. Not a solution – but an answer.
     I’m a lucky guy. I’ve got a college education, a job, a house, a dog, plenty of food in my cupboard. Lots of Beethoven CDs, a machine to play his music.
     I have these things, in great part, because of the work of U.S. Congresses long ago – before the turn of this century. Back when congressmen did their jobs, rather than pose for cameras. Back when Congress could not be summed up fairly in six words, though I believe it is fair to sum up the Congress today in six words.
     Republicans are liars; Democrats are cowards.
     I have plenty of soup in my cupboard.
     Beethoven said: “Anyone who tells a lie does not have a pure heart, and cannot make good soup.”

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