Life Is Simply Magnificent

13th January 2019

We are each of us in search of transcendent experiences. This desire is at the heart of spirituality, the soul of music and the essence of love. The search is part of our human inheritance.

Chocolate companies may pretend to get us there; endorphinoligists may promise a 10km run that brings you to your knees will bring you there. But we should resist the persuaders. Transcendence cannot be faked or otherwise cajoled from its lair by artificial means. 

To transcend is simply to move beyond, letting go in order to move higher. It is the experience of surpassing, creating a moment of awakening that sustains.

It is the reason we live. 

We do not live to brush our teeth, put out the bins or switch phone companies based on the latest exciting bundle offer. Nor do we live to master the word ‘ostensible’ in written prose, to upgrade a plane seat to a wider-berthed executive one, or to replace the crocked kettle with a new one which actually turns off once you lift it from its perch. 

Living as we do in a life mediated by commerce, consumerism and smoked mirrors, it is sometimes easy to lose one’s balance and believe that progress in life is marked by upgrades in kettles.

It is not. 

Indeed, upgrades are mostly compensations for the challenge that real progress presents. Upgrades numb the excruciating pain of dealing with a change in your telco provider, and the angst we carry living in a global bullying pulpit which systematically hollows out those things that once felt most precious. 

Except for this. Except for this glorious thing that we each have inside ourselves that can neither be robbed nor grafted. We each have a gift for transcendence. 

The mechanics of the transcendental may be similar in every person, but their manifestations are innumerable. That which brings me higher may leave you tense or quizzical. That which raises you up may excite indifference, or even scorn, on behalf of myself or others. 

My transcendent playground is one I must own, despite the begrudgers. Because, what the hell would they know? And anyway, few can feel the profound emptiness I experience every Sunday evening as I drag my bin to the front of the house, checking once again that it is the right colour, that I’ve followed the instructions for rinsing tins, and that the bloody lid will remain shut. 

I am moved to think of these things because I like to start my morning with music. Algorithms have gotten the better of me, and I now rarely choose my own lilting delight. That task now belongs to YouTube. YouTube knows me better than I do myself – which is a cause for concern, but not my current concern. 

This morning, it offered me Montserrat. I listened to a brief and outrageously beautiful aria, sung by Caballé called Chi Il Bel Sogno Di Doretta by Giacomo Puccini.

Its musical line evokes the ineffable beauty of the world with such immediate precision I was fully awake to its wonder in just a few bars.

Ready, then, for the first high note with all its electricity. Only to remember she goes higher – and reaches greater beauty still. And then, towards the end of this little piece, the music itself pushes the singer into a home straight. We know she is on a trajectory of glory. The orchestration is a trailer for the plot which only her voice can announce. The aria’s final words, ‘poter amar così’ – ‘to love such as this’, express the idea that surely inspired its own creation. 

As I listened, I was filled with love for life and hope for all things battered. Puccini’s blessed hand touched mine. Transcendent. 

In this sweet Sunday-morning reverie, I scrolled YouTube’s comment feed to find a soulmate. I searched for someone interested in the surpassing feeling in this music, not a critique of Caballé’s timbre, or breath control, or ability to bring out the bins as she sang… 

I found him. I found the brother to affirm that I am not alone. A chap called Colin Gale also listened to Chi Il Bel Sogno Di Doretta. I don’t know him, of course, but I belong with him. Because we find this thing in similar spaces. 

Colin responded to Montserrat’s performance with a single sentence. 

‘This made me cry on the way to Morisson’s to pick up dog food’. 

Yes, I thought. Life is simply magnificent. 

Let my day begin. 

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