Head of School’s Notebook — Grace Comes by Art

March 31, 2020

There is a video making the rounds this week—it even made the national news programs—that was produced by a family in Great Britain. It’s a cleverly adapted rendition of One Day More from Les Misérables, performed with unusual vigor and gusto just slightly off key by every member of a family of six, the youngest, a daughter, who could easily pass for Cosette. “One more selfie with me glaring!” she sings while scowling and holding her phone aloft.

The day before, I was forwarded a video of two boys in quarantine in Italy playing an acoustic version of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida on their violins. The song, much like One Day More, is a celebration of life and a recognition of how quickly our fates can change. “I used to rule the world,” Viva La Vida begins.

That fact, though—the change in circumstance, what used to be, the immediate threat to health and safety—is not what comes through in these videos. It’s something else entirely. Joy in the face of confinement, humor rather than melancholy, a means to give voice to our moments and ourselves. “Long live life” is more the message, the very thing that Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay, said the song is intended to be about—the good and the not so good, the rise and the fall.

There was an article with a similar flavor on Tuesday in The New York Times, about two women, one over 100 and another 95, who have survived every major world conflict, epidemic, and hardship. The elder of the two was born during the 1919 flu pandemic, both are Jewish and endured the Holocaust, and neither is unsettled by the events of the present day. Said one, “Confinement doesn’t bother me. My shaky frame can handle more confinement.”

But the best lines came from the author, Ginia Bellafonte, who noted these women “possessed fearlessness nurtured by misfortune” and concluded, “When catastrophe is sequential, it eventually trains its survivors to greet terror with the serenity of the enlightened.”

Like all of us, I find myself searching in this seemingly changed world for a way to understand how to best face the new reality with which we are confronted. I did the same two years ago when the Thomas Fire was raging, and I found some comfort in Joan Didion and her essay on the weather of the west and of the challenge of “living so close to the edge.”

We are still there, of course, on that “edge,” most of us separated from each other but strangely and happily not alone. Other voices reach us—in verse, in song, in celebration, and in hope. The world wide web is living up to its name.

And art in one form or another seems to be flourishing in these times, the vehicle by which we express the unique humanity and the hope that lie within each of us. The theaters are all closed. There are no concerts or visits to museums or galleries. The creativity instead comes from the masses.

It is not our way to go quietly. We push back in whatever manner we can. One day more, each day until … enlightenment, serenity, peace, and grace.