When Only Ludwig Will Do

I got stuck this week in a FB argument… the kind of stuck that means long after I’d bowed out of the thread–a discussion of the proposal to make gun owners buy liability insurance–I was still waging a yeah-but battle in my head with a troll who isn’t worth the bother.

I know why this particular moral Venus fly-trap caught me.

I once upon a time represented a kid in foster care court. Little guy was two when he was shot in the chest by his four-year-old sibling. The result was paralysis for the victim from the sternum down. The weapon belonged to an off-duty cop who left it in the unlocked glove compartment of his unlocked cruiser, the safety off, and the gun loaded. Another kid found the gun, and left it in the two-year-old’s home. Mom and Dad were upstairs when this happened, big to-do, investigations all over…

The cop got administrative leave. The child got life in a wheelchair, peeing through a catheter. His family could not afford to make his home wheelchair accessible, his sister became a CNA so her second and third unpaid jobs could be looking after her brother. I can rattle off tons of cases like this, and get myself all worked up over each one of them.

I have all this baggage, I pack it around behind me in a little red wagon of vicarious trauma, inborn advocacy skills, and un-howled outrage. For the most part, I manage pretty well, but occasionally, I lose my balance, and some trog on social media can temporarily hijack my peace. I’m better now, thank you, in part because I went to ride my lesson horse and that guy makes everything better, but also because I focused my imagination on Ludwig Beethoven.

Dear Ludwig was not long on charm, his family was barely respectable. He wanted to study with Mozart, but nope. Then he hoped to study with Haydn–another nope. By the time he was thirty–many nopes later–his hearing was going, and oops–Napoleon was leaving a literal trail of destruction across Europe. Not such a good time to be peddling tunes to the idle rich. Beethoven idolized Napoleon, bought into all that liberty, equality, fraternity stuff… until Napoleon crowned himself Emperor and showed himself to be (among other things) a vainglorious, warmongering, bloodthirsty hypocrite. Who knew?

So there’s Beethoven, scrounging hard for work, deaf, politically disillusioned, no longer able to perform in public, no love life worth a mention, his family either troublesome or not exactly supportive… the guy had a right to cop an attitude, but what does he do? WHAT DOES HE DO?

He writes the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125. If he had written only the finale to that one work, he’d have added transcendent glory to the human condition, but he also wrote the Appassionata, the Pathetique, the Eroica Symphony (No. 3), the Emperor Concerto, the Fifth Symphony, the Eighth, the Pastoral Symphony, the Seventh… ye gods, ye gods. An entire age worth of artistic glory, from the pen of one cranky, disabled, not very happy guy.

And he did most of this while unable to hear his own creations. Stop and cry about that for a minute. I cannot wrap my mind or my heart around fortitude of that magnitude, I can only be inspired by it.

I get down. I have bad days, I feel overwhelmed, and I need to hide and rest from time to time, but on my worst, worst days, I think of Beethoven. I think of Beethoven–deaf but still writing works of immense beauty for the rest of us to hear–and I know that hope and joy can shine despite all odds to the contrary.

Who or what is your Beethoven? To one commenter, I will send a $50 Amazon e-gift card.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

31 comments on “When Only Ludwig Will Do

  1. I am happy for your un-howled outrage. It means you feel. It means you care, and it means you can write books with a happy-ever-after. I am also relieved you have your horse and that you have Beethoven so you can keep writing them…

    • Thanks, Marianne. I did not ride for about ten years when the economy tanked (no money), so I am endlessly grateful for the readers who pay for my lessons. Without the readers…
      And yeah…”only living flesh can suffer.” Good poem, but not so cheery.

  2. Gosh this week’s blog made me really think,I really enjoy Beethovens music.He was a genius and fought against the odds.My Beethoven is a generation___my parents generation.I am English and I am here because My parents and their generation fought for survival and freedom alongside the rest of Great Britain.It seemed a forgone conclusion at the beginning of the war that we would be invaded,we were so I’ll prepared.But the nation rallied and got behind the government and followed all the advise and sometimes orders to help the cause of the war effort.Food rationing,giving pots and pans over and other metals so they could build aeroplanes to defend the Island.Gardens dug up to grow vegetables.Make do and mend.A strong leader and a nation determined to survive no matter what.War is terrible and should be avoided if possible but sometimes it cannot.So against the odds Britain survived.True grit of a generation that gave its all for the sake of future generations,of which I am one,my children and their children.Not many of that generation are with us now but the legacy of their strength and steadfastness remains.

    • What a wonderful testimony to their legacy. Too often, we grow complacent and forget what previous generations went through to bring us the freedoms and privileges we enjoy today. Gratitude is a virtue often forgotten these days.

    • Interesting you should make that comment just as I finish reading Churchill’s 1000-page biography. France caved (for reasons), and Britain could easily have taken the same route. Churchill had no clear path to victory at first, but he knew surrendering without a fight was unthinkable. He trusted the common people, which is odd for somebody who was at one point in line for a dukedom. Very interesting, hard times, and we forget them at our peril.

  3. I just turned 75 and I have some physical disabilities. It is difficult for me to walk. Not much I can do about that. But there are things I can do to maintain a good mental attitude. They are mostly things I’ve done all of my life.

    Prayer and my faith bring me a lot of inner peace. I count my blessings. I know that some people might think that I don’t have that many – but I know that I do. I look to the good people in this world who do good things. People like yourself who helped children in need, those people and organizations who help the poor, who help abused animals. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders who do so much good in this world.

    I have authors like yourself who create beautiful stories for me to escape into. I call them comfort reads. And laughing helps me immensely. I have go to authors and TV programs for that too.

    • My mom was a woman of strong faith, always counting her blessings, always offering a smile if she couldn’t offer anything else. I was well into my thirties before I began to appreciate the terrible limitations her society put on all women, but smart women in particular–and she was quite smart. She didn’t bellyache. She made the best of her situation and went to bed every night at peace with herself.
      No small accomplishment, that, and it sounds like you’ve reached that same objective!

  4. When I get down, feel overwhelmed or have a bad day, I think of my Nana Molly. Nana raised 5 children during WWII after her husband died. She went back to work and sometimes worked 2 jobs to provide for her family.
    She loved to bake & go to the movies I loved it when she came for the holidays; great memories of baking, dinners and laughter.

    I wonder how she raised her family alone— I never heard her complain.
    She had such a positive attitude and encouraged me to reach for the stars. She was a strong independent woman who stepped up & took care of her family.
    I think of her often-when I bake bread or cookies using her recipes & when I enjoy a cup of tea. And remember her strength of character & positive attitude.

    • One of my friends lost her home to a fire, though she, her husband, and dog escaped unscathed. I asked her what the greatest loss was. Two things: Family photo albums and the recipes handed down from her mom and grandma. Some of the recipes she or her mom could recreate, and that meant a lot.

      My Nana was also a single mom before it was popular, and she remarried in haste and repented all through the Depression, then ditched my grandpa (who deserved ditching). I accompanied dance classes at the piano to support myself in college.
      She accompanied dance classes at the piano in the early 1920s to feed her kid. Odd, how the circles connect.

  5. Well, Beethoven is my BEETHOVEN! There are of others but he’s a good example of overcoming adversity.

    Hubby, an ENT doc, is reading “Hearing Beethoven,” a sort of double bio of Beethoven and the author’s (a musicologist) wife (who had a sudden hearing loss). DH tells me, it speaks of what Beethoven did to OVERCOME his hearing loss and how it affected his music as well as his personal interactions. Worth a read.

    What strikes Hubby, is the lengths LVB went to try to compensate, including using all the technology available to him at the time. My take-away is–do we, when confronted with adversity, use everything available to US to overcome? Do we whine or do we get busy and use what make sense, even if it seems farfetched?

    The finale of Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 is glorious but with the glory is a bit of the unrealistic–the sopranos hover on High As FOREVER it seems–but those As hovering are part of what makes it a transcendent work.

    • I will add that title to my TBR pile (which is about as high as Mount Crumpet). Beethoven wasn’t the only one. Chopin took at least ten years to die of TB, but he kept composing. Schumann wrecked his hand trying to shortcut technique, married the best concert pianist he could find, and turned to composing. Brahms, all alone (probably in love with Schumann’s wife), wrote some of the loveliest piano solo repertoire ever there will be… Mendelssohn dealt with anti-Semitism, though Christian, and did as much to shine public appreciation on JS Bach as he did to advance his own career… These were people with big visions and big determination directed toward something outside themselves. Their stories are why I have a degree in music history.

      I get what you’re saying about the Finale, though. Not much of the folk tune left when you’re perched on high A…

  6. I dunno about what inspires me and comforts me generally BUT your post this morning did. I just came from church and the sermon was about “let your love be genuine… do not return evil for evil ….. return evil with good….” which I believe, truly I do. but I had just read an article in this Sunday Washington Post about the evangelicals in Texas and Trump etc and I got so depressed and hopeless. I was in church going ‘yeah but …..” the entire time — Yeah, love genuine, got it, but I feel like I am trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon while the tide is coming in. SO…. your post was helpful and thanks very much.

    • I think that, “Yeah, but REALITY…” sentiment is nearly inescapable these days. When I was in grad school working on a conflict degree, one of the topics under frequent discussion was, “How do you not give up? How do you not give up on peace, goodness, progress, civility…?”

      It’s really, really hard not to give up, and I hope you don’t. I hope you hide and rest as much as you need to, read the happy books, listen to the wonderful music, hug the darling babies, and be genuinely, lovingly, back in the affray along with the rest of us when your spirit is up to the challenge.

    • That is such a stinker of a diagnosis. To have a positive attitude in the face of that disease is truly impressive.

  7. I find Julia Child to be a good Beethoven. Despite being unable to cook (and middle-aged and in a foreign country and not taken seriously) she undertook the process of educating herself, then, later, a nation. All while being wonderfully imperfect and inspiring. Also Tourette’s Hero makes me laugh and think and not feel alone in struggling with disability.

    In periods of great personal pessimism, I read Miss Pettigrew Lives For a
    Day. It reminds me what can change in a day and the impact we have on each other to expand worlds.

  8. It must be infuriating – can’t think of another word – that people are careless and there is no responsibility given for the lifelong consequences to that. There should have been responsibility, in this case financial.

    • There actually was some, years later. An out of court settlement to do things like add a ramp to the house, pay for some care, and so forth, but in Maryland, the taxpayer ends up footing most of the medical bills in a situation like that.
      It’s just sad, and a little forethought could have avoided a lot of pain and heartache. I didn’t share the particulars of that case with the person I was arguing with on FB, because what’s the point? When somebody is so convinced of their righteous privilege, facts don’t usually make an impact.

  9. I didn’t answer your question. Good books are my Beethoven, since I don’t have much time to listen to anything anymore, except on the short commute I hate.

    • Fortunately for you and all those other commuters, audio is one of the fastest growing segments of the book market!

  10. I guess mine is a thing. I seem to be able to see past the surface of special needs kiddos. At least I think that is what I do. When I engage these kids (and some adults) based on my observations I am generally successful interacting with them successfully. On the (few) times when I see a spurt of growth or skill development while I am present I feel this surge of joy. I call it a “high” and it carries me through the zillions of struggles in between.

    When I am low I admit I can not conjure the feeling to go with the memory, but I remind myself that the moment was there and I was able to bare witness. I firmly pledge that I will remain present when it happens again.

    • That is a tremendous gift, and that you hold out for the moment to arise again is another sort of gift too. I just saw a quote from some Wildly Successful Poet today saying that he became a poet because when he was eight years old, some teacher looked at his poem about a blue bear and told him he could be a professional writer.
      That’s all it took–somebody believing–and his dream came true. If you can do that for the special needs student, you have a superpower.

  11. When I need a pick-me-up (and it’s pretty much a constant need these days), I read a romance novel. I prefer historical because I know we have survived those past times or paranormal because it’s a totally different reality, but any romance novel that’s well written will do. It goes without saying (though I am saying) that the HEA is the key. I couldn’t get through any difficulties if I didn’t know everything would work out in the end. Cozy mysteries work, too, but romance is definitely my first love. When I’m so down I cannot even read, then I play a game, such as Candy Crush Soda, or something bright and shiny and requiring just enough attention to stop me from thinking about myself.

    • One of my family members discovered NeoPets in the midst of serious depression. God bless NeoPets. Best $7/month anybody ever spent.

  12. I don’t usually spend much time on Facebook, and I’ve spent less time in part because of the increase in dogmatic posts. I’d say my Beethoven these days are some of foster parents in the animal rescue community. There are women (and their significant others) who dedicate their lives to helping animals in need. Four ladies in particular who have worked magic and miracles in healing and rehabing sick and injured animals. Their work may not make a long lasting impact on society, but they help bring joy to families and animals.

    • If I ever get to heaven, and I’m doing my audition with St. Peter and he says, “All the good you did for animals doesn’t count, sorry…” That is not my heaven. I will have to find some other place to hang out once I work off my indenture in purgatory (that’s the Catholic version), because animals COUNT.

      • The God that sees a sparrow fall to Earth will not leave his creation out. I still swat flies, squish spiders and spray aphids, however.

  13. My Beethoven is my Mother. She has weathered many a storm and has always done so with dignity and aplomb. At 83, she has seen a lot and she has endured more, but the minute one of her children or another loved one even hints at need, she’s there to assist or take over, if she feels that’s necessary, and regardless of what the recipient of her assistance may want. She’s a rock and a wonderful mentor, and even on days when she’s not quite up to par, she pushes on and puts the rest of us to shame with her strength. She’d find this amusing.

    • As I watched my parents age into and out of their eighties, I was in awe of what a strong spirit can do with the sunset years. Art Linkletter was right, growing old is not for sissies, not when you do it right.

  14. Ah. That would be you. The first romance I read (sorry, can’t recall the name) you mentioned the Kreutzer sonate. Not knowing it, I googled it and was immediately under the spell. I spent a year finding a way to hear it live (I live in the Netherlands), and finally a great stroke of luck brought Ray Chen and Kreutzer to Amsterdam. I bought 6 tickets and demanded that our sons go with us to see and hear. They were not enthusiastic and I was very worried. But they too fell in love, they were so deeply impressed that now, 4 years later, we still speak Kreutzer and Chen and how they changed our lives. I am eternally grateful.