What You Can’t Hear

Imagine building a life doing the thing that brings you the most joy.

You find a way to transform this joy into a career. You invest every ounce of effort into becoming world class at what you do. You receive global acclaim as the best of your age. Historians will one day look back on your contributions to declare you a history maker, an innovator, one whose creations changed everything.

Now imagine, the one thing you need to continue doing what you love the most was suddenly taken away. What would you feel? Sadness? Bitterness? Remorse? Grief? Anger?

This is exactly what happened to Ludwig von Beethoven. This master composer and conductor spent a lifetime producing music still enjoyed today. More than that. His work transformed all the music to follow. If you enjoy modern music of almost any style you owe Beethoven a bit of thanks. His work made that work possible.

By the end of his career, Beethoven was deaf. He lost the one skill that seems most critical to a musician and composer. I’m certain it was frustrating. There’s no question he experienced the common range of emotions one would expect with the loss of something so beloved.

But he didn’t stop. He kept writing and conducting. I think that’s the nature of passion. Deep passion won’t let a little thing likeability stand its way.

He was surrounded by musicians and patrons blessed by his work and they, in turn, worked to help him.

It would be reasonable to think his grief and bitterness could be heard in this final piece of music. No one could fault him if this symphony wasn’t as good as his last.

He was deaf.

But one more time he poured himself into his passion. With his music, He adapted a poem. This poem expresses exactly the opposite of what you might expect a deaf musician to feel.

“Joyful, joyful we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love.
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,
Opening to the sun above.”

“Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
Drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day.”

This day comes for us all. The day when our abilities can no longer keep pace with our dreams and desires.

How will you respond?

It’s remarkable that this Sunday, this song, which Beethoven never heard, will be sung in some variation in churches around the world.

As your abilities fade, as skill, energy, and focus give way to the relentless march of time and age, remember this Ode to Joy. May you give in to your passion and produce something that blesses generations.

Whether you can hear it or not.