We tend to think of resolutions as reaching beyond the everyday inertia of static behavior that holds us back, even though we know we should be changing for the better. During the rest of the calendar, the moment moves us rather than our better angels motivating us. A midnight snack can be rationalized away on any given day, but come the new year, those pesky angels are whispering in our ear, “Diet!”
Thanks to actor Bradley Cooper’s compelling bio-pic Maestro, legendary musical polymath Leonard Bernstein is back on the podium these days. What does the redoubtable “Lenny” have to do with resolutions? Bear with me.
One of the more indelible images I have of the West Side Story composer is at a celebration of his 70th birthday at the 1988 Tanglewood Music Festival (viewable on YouTube).
During the event’s celebratory climax, Bernstein, seated in the audience, covers his face, both hands slightly shaking, to forestall the tears that seem about to burst forth.
His fragile emotional state in that moment comes from reveling in a stageful of elite musical talent singing the soaring finale to Candide, a musical composed by Bernstein. It’s based on Voltaire’s satire about the light-hearted travels and travails of a naive young lad of the title seeking an unattainably perfect world, and who predictably has a rude awakening when he meets the harsh reality. Candide comes to the hard-won realization that our lot in life is not to be a superhero or to be super-rich or to be superficial. It is to be self-sustaining, to be humble, to be kind to one another – to do our small part to make the world a better place by being a better person. To meet life’s challenges with resolve. It’s not complicated. Unless we muck it up.
The song that brings Bernstein to the verge of tears is “Make Our Garden Grow.” Garden in this context is a metaphor for life – to produce and persist with resolve, against the odds. As the song swells in choral grandeur, is becomes a musical expression of the essence of our existence. Listen to the lyrics counsel, “Let us try, before we die, to make some sense of life.”
The simple sentiments of the song suggest that each of us might stick to the same, very modest resolutions to ring in each year. We can make some sense of life by sticking to the basics in how we resolve to carry ourselves and how we treat others.
As we each tend to our own gardens so they may flourish and nourish, it’s a worthy resolution each day, let alone each new year, to respect one another’s labor in growing our gardens – and to help each other till the communal soil whenever we can.
Most important, let us resolve to stay humble, recognizing each minute we’re here is a gift. Nobody owes us anything. We have to plumb and steel our own resolve to make some sense of life.
We’re neither pure nor wise nor good
We’ll do the best we know
We’ll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow