The music started just as I rounded the curve of the northbound on-ramp, heading for the city: one of the last and best of the great Mozart piano concertos. It's one of the really famous ones. I've heard it probably a gazillion times, and I know it intimately, note by note, from the broody opening to the giggle of the trumpets in the last movement.
It's a piece that, for me, has lots of associations. It's intimately wrapped up with a particularly intense period of my life. I suppose most people who are at least a little musical have associations like this: something reminds you of that summer you turned 19; that piece always brings back your grandmother's house; that song takes you back to the days you were courting. Whatever.
Unfortunately, the memories I have wrapped up in this splendid music-paper are not good ones: they are memories of a period of fearfulness and oppression. They're linked not so much with storms as with a perpetual grumbling threat of thunder--always the chance that some small thing could set off an explosion. They remind me of strain and fearful anticipation and a deep underlying grief, of small defeats and losses that added up terribly over time. Which is really too bad, because that's a hell of a fine piece of music.
Was thinking about this, half-listening as I drove cityward--and I suddenly noticed that something had changed. Oh, the memories were still there: they probably always will be. But somehow, the music itself had got back its sunniness. It still had the memories attached, like tags; but its brightness was no longer shaded by their darkness. I could remember the past--I couldn't not, because unless it's repressed, associative recall is spontaneous, not willed. But I could also hear the music separated from the memories --redeemed to be its own splendid self, if that makes any sense at all.
I once read, and was utterly stopped in my tracks by, a bit of C.S. Lewis, in which he says that God's time will run backward and redeem the hells we go through. At the time I read that, my own particular personal hells were far too raw and new. I could maybe accept what he said as a purely intellectual proposition, but my soul rose in revolt: this cannot be. It's not possible. And it disrespects the suffering in their pain.
But something of that has happened with this particular Mozart concerto. Time, or healing, or God's grace has worked some sort of transformation: the music still has its awful associations, but instead of their dragging it down, it seems to be dragging them up.
I've seen the same transforming process redeeming other music or words or things that I'd thought were past redemption. Those of us who lived with abusive spouses sometimes look at 1 Corinthians 13 with a certain amount of bitterness, since we or others had used those words to justify our capitivity. We have to seize back possession of that passage and somehow redeem it from the evil use it was put to. Some of us can manage that; others can't, and sadly they lose Paul's great hymn to love
The ultimate such back-transformable thing is the Cross itself. They used to bug me, those ornately ornamented crucifixes from which the dying Christ was missing. The original cross was a stake planted deep; Jesus was probably only one of a number of people who died on that baulk of lumber. He'd had to carry his own cross-piece to the hill where he died. As the events unfolded, the whole affair would have been one of cruel words and rough wood and the most terrible, undeserved agony of body and spirit. What's gold and ivory and jewels got to do with that?
But through the resurrection. even death is redeemed; even hell gets won over and transmogrified, and glory washes backward to turn this horror into gold. The Crucifixion is the most spectacular and important demonstration of what God's love and power can do, moving freely in time, reclaiming even the most horrible stuff, scrubbing it clean, polishing it until it shines in glory. God's power can not only reclaim the Cross and turn it for good; it can do the same with any human soul and its stains and wounds and mourning, its damagedness and bad memories. Mine included.
It takes only such a tiny fraction of that power to give me back this Mozart concerto. But I'm very glad I have it once again.