My son taught himself to play “Ode to Joy” on the piano years ago. The melody appeared on our cell phones after that; and late in his high school career, I once heard him play the song on an electric guitar.
Coming out of court yesterday after a tense battle at the bench over custody of a little boy, I heard the strains of Beethoven’s symphony. They built to a crescendo, the swell of strings, the rise of the horns, the staccato march of the chorus, the timpani’s relentless punctuation. My pulse quickened: a claim had to be asserted, a motion drafted, a precious child’s future steadied, the guard around him secured. I had no time to spare. As I maneuvered through late afternoon traffic, the music soared within me, rising, rising. My eyes briefly closed. A wave of fury washed over me and spilled onto the images of people crowded in the courtroom, especially those intent on winning despite the cost, despite the tragedy, despite the impact on that sweet, trusting child.
Where is the joy in this, I whispered, softly, barely hearing myself over the pounding of my hammering heart.
By the time I got back to the office my question had faded.
But the music lingered.
Joy, thou beauteous godly lighting,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire drunken we are ent’ring
Heavenly, thy holy home!
Thy enchantments bind together,
What did custom’s sword divide,*
Beggars are a prince’s brother,*
Where thy gentle wings abide.
Be embrac’d, ye millions yonder!
Take this kiss throughout the world!
Brothers—o’er the stars unfurl’d
Must reside a loving father.
Friedrich Schiller, 1786; 1803