Joy and Its Absence
On a hot Saturday night in the provinces, two handsome young lovers made their nuptial vows at a Christian church in front of family and friends, as is the custom. But at this wedding, unlike every other I’ve attended, the preacher harangued and scolded and pretended to cry, careful, it seemed, to inject the proceedings with a ponderous solemnity befitting a funeral or a disciplinary hearing. No one smiled; not the bridesmaids in their gowns and makeup, not the groomsmen, not the relatives, not the choir, and, heartbreakingly, not the bride and groom. Joy, for reasons I could not grasp, had been tacitly banished, relegated to less important occasions that didn’t involve pledges of love and loyalty. Naked, unabashed happiness — unreliable and dynamic, and therefore untrustworthy — was not the point of a wedding. At least not this one.
I usually cry at weddings, overwhelmed by romance. This time I did not weep. But a sadness stuck in my chest. I worried that the two young lovers standing before God and their precious ones viewed their union less as a palette of possibility and more as a necessary alliance. Where was the physical manifestation of ecstasy? Where was the joy?
On Sunday night in the big city, Hiromi Uehara, the keyboard virtuoso, gave a workshop and performed a concert. She was dazzling, as she always is, the demonic lovechild of Art Tatum and Vladimir Horowitz. Hiromi’s technique and harmonic fluency is marvelous and rare, and the music she makes tends to leave listeners awestruck, me included. But what was most magnificent about Hiromi, was the obvious, uncontainable joy flowing through her body. The smile on her face was in her elbows and her hips; the smile was in her molecular structure, and it radiated to the back of the concert hall and beyond, blessing all who listened with a kind of musical holy water. This was a 90-minute orgasm. This was nirvana. And she was happy — she was overjoyed — to share it with all of us, her friends.
Earlier, Hiromi had told an interlocutor that she doesn’t consider the four or five or more hours-a-day she practices at the piano to be work. For her it is play. She said she found it curious that anyone would complement her for being dedicated to her art. When a child spends five hours at his Playstation, no one celebrates. “For me, the piano is my video game,” Hiromi explained. “Making music is what I do.”
“I want to make people happy.”
Is there a better reason to do anything? Is there a better reason to be married, to toil, to dream, to fail, to try again? If not for the omnipresent opportunity to create and experience joy, the joy of being human and being alive, the heartache and disappointment of living seems not worth the trouble, especially when the afterlife promises to be so much better.
God was in the house Sunday night. We all felt her spirit.