First of all, I believe in God. I believe in God mostly because I have come around to believing in him all by myself. Nobody helped me. I am one of those who would resist help, especially in things concerning the spiritual. I came to believe in God because over the many years, He time and time again made himself manifest in me.
To embrace the career of composer is tantamount to embracing a life of high adventure. One is constantly on the firing line—estimated, appreciated, often criticized harshly by one and all. There may be no atheists in fox holes, but there are none in the green room either, especially before the premier of a difficult, and intricate, and, I hope, always courageous musical work.
Also, one cannot long work in the composition of music without coming to realize that one doesn’t do it all by one’s self. Something else is in operation, some great life force, something beyond description except in a strong and subtle music as one can find and write. I do not know what it is, but as God has often been kinder to me than I deserve, I like to think that all this has something to do with Him.
Secondly, I believe in music. When I am true to it, music is my friend. It consoles me in my hours of consternation and gives me added flight in my hours of luck. Music is mostly faith, but after that it is something that makes life—always beautiful, doubly worth living. I love music, and sometimes I even feel that it loves me back a little.
But amongst those things I believe in most is laughter. This is a sad world. In my own short lifetime, almost everything one can imagine has happened to me personally: sad things, tragic things, things which I had more often than not faced like a coward. Once, indeed, I almost lost my dear music. But even in my darkest moments, abandoned seemingly by all, I found that I was always saved if I could laugh. Laughter breaks evil spells, changes luck. Laughter is on the side of God.
Mozart tonight sleeps in an unmarked paupers grave. Hard was his life and a veritable financial catastrophe. Yet this divinely perfect of all musicians knew how to laugh. Read his letters. His music laughed, too. Though it is always deeply moving, passionate, elevated, it also does what many of his contemporaries, now fallen by the wayside, could not do. It laughs. Listen to it.
I was once asked what I would most deeply wish for my young son, could I bestow but one quality upon him. Without hesitation, I wrote back, “a sense of humor.” I could have said passion, for a passionate man is a living man. But passion, too, has its dangerous extremes. It too often brings great sorrow instead of happiness. I could have said happiness. But how could he know that he was happy if he was never to know sorrow.
So I ask for the one quality which, added to any other which he may then develop, would make it possible to live with, to expand, to enjoy. God has been kind to me. Peter is now seventeen, has a marvelous sense of humor, and the house rings with laughter when he is home from high school.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.