In Praise of Lost Causes
St. Jude: the patron saint of lost causes. I didn’t hear of St. Jude until I became an adult, and when I did, I loved the idea of a saint devoted to hard luck cases. It satisfied both my fatalism and my sense of the ridiculousness of life. After all, there are those who would say that I myself am a lost cause.
If ever we need a patron saint of lost causes, it’s right now. As I write this, America and much of the rest of the first world is suffering through political and environmental changes the likes of which I have never seen in my lifetime. Today, on this late October day, I am afraid. I am afraid for myself and for the rest of the people on this planet. In these dark moments it seems as if there is no hope and not even St. Jude can do anything about our obsessive need to destroy others and ourselves. And yet, when I stop thinking globally and come back into my life, this day, I see glimmers of hope.
This autumn has given me weeks of golden, crisp fall days. The leaves have turned brilliant shades of red and gold, and frost is on the pumpkins. Sunlight warms my piano keys as I prepare for a recital I’m giving in a few days. When I look out my window, I’m greeted by the sight of a rushing river rimmed by gold and red trees. This is the season of harvest and farmer’s markets; ripe tomatoes and roasted corn. It’s post-season baseball. It’s leaves falling, cold nights, surprise snow flurries, and winter-weight duvets. These gifts are short-lived; in a few weeks this golden world will be replaced by wind and ice and snow.
Sometimes the hardest thing is the knowledge that everything will change. All things die. All seasons end. To try to hang on to autumn would be a “lost cause.” In life we are in the midst of death, but perhaps in death we are also in the midst of life. This October I watched friends bury spouses. I said goodbye to another dear friend—a woman who lived a life devoted to beauty, art, music, and community. In the last six months, my father moved to senior housing and my mother was put in a nursing home. My time with both of them is dying, but in each act of love and care, there is so much life.
As I put the final touches on my recital repertoire, I’m reminded of an adult student who studied with me years ago. A passionate amateur pianist and a confident performer, she is one of those rare people who, when she played in my studio recitals, seemed to gain energy from an audience. When I complimented her, she replied, “I don’t think it is from the audience, but rather from the other performers. I get to sit there with them and we’re a team. We’re all in it together. And they all play so beautifully that I feel lucky to just be there and be part of it.”
Sometimes I forget. I forget how much beauty can be had if I just pay attention. I forget that even though my work is a time-based art form and other than recordings, every note dies right after I play it, for that one minute there is beauty. And for that one minute there is meaning, and hope.We’re all in it together and we are all “lost causes.” All hell breaks loose around us we let go of everything we’ve clutched so tightly but hang on to the love and truth we know. And we look for the flickers of beauty and hope, in the hug of a dying woman, in the generosity of autumn colors, in the crisp bite of a cold night, and in the ephemeral, transitory, yet heart-grabbing beauty of piano music, in a sunny studio, on a day devoted to lost causes.