Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Perhaps Joy Is A Kind Of Defiance

Sunday night I watched one of the most joyous, inspiring stories I've ever seen. 60 Minutes did a segment on the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. If you didn't catch the program, you can watch it here:

The musicians in the orchestra beam with joy while they play their instruments; similarly, the choir members glow with an inner joy that brings tears to your eyes when they sing. Listening to them, your spirits rise to heights you never knew existed. And when you hear the story of the orchestra, your breath leaves your body. An awe so profound envelops you, and you are speechless.

What takes your breath away? Most of the members of the orchestra and choir live in desperate poverty, but their love for classical music is so great that they find a way to come to rehearsals six days a week, week after week. They learn to play instruments, and they learn how to sing. They have found something larger than themselves, something that wells up,  spills over, and drowns out for a moment their difficult lives outside the music hall. When the musicians and the choir come together, it sounds like what I would imagine angels would sound like--truly a heavenly choir.

While the entire story is inspirational, what moved me most was the story of the two brothers. Six days a week, the boys make the twenty mile round trip from their home to Kinshasa to be part of the orchestra. They walk, run, and take a makeshift bus--all this so that they can make the beautiful music that is their joy and their passion. Music is as necessary to them as air.

Seeing the dedication of the boys makes me wonder how many of us take the time for our greatest joys and passions. How many of us would make a twenty mile, walking-running-bus round trip six days a week to do something that makes us feel whole? Puzzlingly and contradictorily, it seems that when something is easy to do, like is so often the case here in the United States and other first world countries, we make more excuses for not doing it. Perhaps that is why so few of us beam with joy. Perhaps joy comes, in part, from resisting the darkness, the poverty, the hopelessness. Perhaps joy is a kind of defiance.

And while most of us do not have the crushing conditions that so many people in Kinshasa must endure, we do have a constant battle against living meaningless lives. We, who have so many things and so many opportunities, often find ourselves asking, "Is this all there is?" We hunger for meaning. We stare into an abyss, and if we do not want to echo Kurtz's "The horror, the horror" in Conrad's Heart of Darkness at the end of our lives, we must find something that makes us larger than we would be without it, something to fill the abyss, something that makes us beam with joy just as the members of the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra do when they sing "Ode to Joy" in Kinshasa.

Take care,


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  1. Kate,
    How thought provoking.(as usual!) Unfortunately, I've been up all night finishing a blog that's my first blog since Nov.'11.Seems that there are things that interfere with my day, and the only time I have to really sit down to gather my thoughts seems to be late at night. So, with due apologies, I shall read your latest more thoroughly later today. (The clock just struck 6:15 AM,just now.I haven't been able to sleep! But I promise I'll read it!(When I'm more wide awake---say round noon???
    Susie Kahn Parker

  2. Watching that orchestra brought tears to my eyes!

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