I sat in the concert hall next to the only empty seat. The Bach Trios, with Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Edgar Meyer, had been sold out for months. The empty seat belonged to my husband. And, while I was listening alone to Bach, he was listening to the screams of our 9 month old as he drove around and waited for her to fall asleep.
To explain how this happened would require too much background. But there really was no other way. In the weeks before the concert, my husband had started a great new job. And, while I was so thankful, I was also envious, comparing his new work environment with my limitations. Every toddler meltdown and baby night waking made me more frustrated. Knowing me, my husband saw I needed time to attend to beauty; and so, I ended up at the concert of a lifetime, with the music that my husband and I intensely love together, all by myself. And, that night, was an epiphany in sound. I remembered what I already knew about life and marriage, but it became lovely to me, something to rejoice in, through the counterpoint of Bach.
To begin with, I remembered that limits can grow superabundant beauty. When the first strains of music sounded through the hush, I was surprised at its quiet. Just as the Lord came to Elijah, not in a whirlwind, but in a whisper, I was reminded of the strength of small things. Though my life may be little and constrained — I can nurture careful beauty, quiet loveliness. I prayed throughout the whole concert, “Let my life be a song.”
Second, I remembered that courtesy defers to the other, but that each gets a turn. In counterpoint, a composer takes a “subject,” a phrase of music to be repeated continually in the piece, and turns it around and over to unveil its possibilities. Sometimes a voice takes the subject, but it always alternates with being in the background. The beauty comes in the timing, in not grasping for the spotlight. From this humility comes harmony.
Beyond constraint and courtesy, beyond the counterpoint itself, I remembered what it means to have a Christian marriage. In marriage, we also continually repeat the same subject: “Love one another as I have loved you.” We are Christ to each other. We lay down ourselves for the other. My husband added layers to the meaning of the concert by giving up his seat for me. This is what we do for each other day by day. And this expands to our family, to our community, so that we become a massive polyphony, playing Christ, playing Love to the other.
But it all begins in the quiet, in the limits, in the joyful acceptance of constraints. This is what Bach makes me remember. And this is why I find listening to the Bach Trios album even more fitting in my living room, as I make it my ambition to lead a quiet life, as my three year old laughs and whines and my baby plays peekaboo and my husband comes home from his great new job, to find me, at least sometimes, content within my song, within our counterpoint.