Over the past year, I’ve been focused on writing a one-man show about the journey of selling and emptying my parents’ home (my stepfather died in 2008, Mom now lives in assisted living). I’ve been writing it both for my own healing and, perhaps, to begin to offer a narrative to an experience that so many of us are going through these days.

An experience that does not seem to have a narrative.

For me, the writing has been wonderful. And painful.

Wonderful because I find few things as energizing as putting words together in a way that creates a story.

Painful because, in choosing the words for this story, I have had to make peace with some very old demons and bid another stage of farewell to even older memories. Such is the nature of creating new narratives.


Earlier this week, I found myself in a bit of a…hmmm, not sure what word to choose here…let’s just say that I found myself in a place I did not want to be in.

In ways I did not initially understand, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, the final movement in his final symphony, reached out to me. 

I say “initially” because I’m not really a fan of Beethoven’s, aside from his “Eroica” symphony, and, up til this week, I hadn’t ever heard the 9th all the way through.

I also say “initially” because I soon did come to understand why “Ode to Joy” was reaching out. This week marks the 200th anniversary of its first performance (May 7 to be exact).

With Beethoven himself as one of the conductors.

I have now listened to the full symphony four, five or six times in the last two days.

I’m telling you this because I want to share its effect on me. In case you, too, are in the midst of creating something and, on this day or another, find yourself.

Where you do not want to be.

The first effect the movement had on me was precisely the intended one: Joy.

The piece is, simply, a work of alchemy. It transmutes even the basest, most unpleasant, emotions.

To pure gold.

Beyond that, it also is a testament to perseverence and vision. Beethoven was deaf when he wrote this symphony. At some point in the writing, he also was arrested. Yet, he went continued. He also continued with a vision without precedent…and, to many, without possibility: You see, before Beethoven’s Ninth, no symphony had ever had a choral section.

Instruments only, but no voices. Yet, Beethoven knew there had to be voices because “Ode to Joy” is very much about the human voice. The choral section also was so complicated that, legend has it, some members of the original chorus.


Because it was too hard.

But Beethoven was clear on his vision.

So, he did not quit. He simply replaced those who thought it was too hard with those who did not.

Joy, perseverence and vision are all pretty awesome effects. And, if you just listen to “Ode to Joy”, they certainly will deliver.

But the main effect this majestic piece of art has had on me has to do with motivation.

Or, perhaps, mission.

You see, Beethoven wrote his “Ode to Joy” largely influenced by and directly quoting Schiller’s 1785 poem of the same name. Schiller’s words, which he called “a kiss to the world” had seized Beethoven.

So, too, had the notion that light can triumph over darkness. That our human pain can be turned into human power. That, if you study the history of humanity and the journey of being human, you will find.

Again and again.

That good will triumph over evil.

Until evil, again, attempts a coup.

And good triumphs.


Beethoven created the Ninth Symphony to give this notion a home.

That would be there for any of us, forever and always, who are navigating the waters of being human.

It’s a home I was glad to be called to this week.

Maybe, in some way, it will call you, too.

The Practice of Being Alive is a collection of stories about getting through this thing called life.