For decades, America has been suffering from language inflation. We take rather ordinary events or people and assign them preposterous descriptors. Cheeseburgers are awesome. Football scores can shock the world. And boyfriends are amazing.
Some time ago I pledged to myself that would try my best to avoid these needless exaggerations. My plan was to choose one word that would be sacred – a word that I would preserve – to be used only on the rarest of occasions to describe those experiences which are so extraordinary that they escape my ability to describe them.
The word is “sublime”.
Ancient philosophers thought of the sublime as not only the highest elevation of style, but style characterized by its simplicity. I liked that. A word which can allow a drop of morning dew on a leaf to share the same sentence as the Grand Canyon.
Hundreds of CapeCodders had a chance to experience the sublime on Wednesday evening when Yo-Yo Ma helped celebrate the CCSO’s 50th Anniversary. His sensitive and simple performance of Tchaikovky’s Andante Cantabile defies this garden-variety writer’s vocabulary. Hence, I get a chance to reach deep into my bag and pull out the one word I reserve for just these occasions. Sublime.
Sharing in the sublime allows us not only to witness but to live, however briefly, within the greatness of that which human beings are capable. It reminds us that we can, from time to time, leave behind the material world and its sometimes unrelenting regret for the past and fear of the future, to simply live in the present and presence of all that is beautiful. To do so in quiet solitude is a delicious moment. To share the same bliss with hundreds of fellow travelers is the essence of freedom and love, and the reason why the arts are so necessary for a truly democratic society to flourish.
It saddens me to know that moments like the one I have described are not available to most of our neighbors. Despite the Symphony’s extraordinary outreach across the Cape through its educational programs, there will always be thousands of people who either don’t know about or cannot afford to share its offerings. I know I am very fortunate to have heard Ma’s mastery this night.
But I also know that moments of clarity and love are possible without purchasing a ticket to a memorable concert. We may not be able to experience the sublime; we so rarely do. But we can experience the serenity and clarity that comes with simply falling still, to leave the past and future behind for the few moments it takes to look, to truly see, the drop of morning dew on the leaf.