I was walking up Madison Avenue last week, when I was literally stopped in my tracks. I came upon a dense crowd of onlookers and reporters, all of us held back by yellow police tape at the corner of 40th Street. Fire trucks and police cars and television vans filled the street. I asked a cameraman what was happening. “Elevator accident,” he said, pointing to a stately old skyscraper. “A woman was crushed to death.”
This was one of those terrible and awe-filled moments in New York when strangers make eye contact, when there is a suspension of the usual state of distraction and mutual isolation. Briefly, a veil dropped and strangers were fellow passengers in the same boat, all of us riding the currents in a vast and unpredictable sea. I called my husband many miles away (such is the world we live in) who supplied more details from the internet. A 41-year-old woman was stepping into an elevator when it suddenly shot upward like a bullet. More facts came out in the news the next day, that the ad exec fell forward and was only half inside when the elevator shot up, that the elevators were old and creaky, that two others were on the scene and watched helplessly, that the woman left behind many friends and loved ones.
I walked away from the awe-full scene, wondering what the woman had been thinking about as she rushed for the elevator. Had she been musing about the holidays and about her work, as I had been? I was walking to Grand Central to go home after having lunch with the gifted David Hykes, singer of haunting harmonic mantras, who has volunteered to be Parabola’s music editor. In the din of a loud restaurant, we spoke of the music of the spheres. We spoke of the latest findings of physics—that reality at the deepest level may be made of vibrations, of music. We agreed that at this level or resolution there is no separation between art, science, and religion. Reality is one. Truth is one.
I told David I once heard the great filmmaker Igmar Bergman said that music was the most human of all art forms. We agreed that this was this was interesting thing about music, that it can be so human and yet so vast, so ultimate. David broke out his laptop and via a special program showed me the beautiful, multi-colored mandala-like forms that chords make. One of the thrilling things about the chords David can sing is that they are not separate from silence: he created a zone of resonating stillness around us in the midst of that loud restaurant.
I told David that Parabola want to make the same kind of sound, not just in concerts (though we hope to host David soon) but in images, stories, and poetry. At its most sincere the practices of art and religion are not meant to be a means of distraction and escape but a means to make us instruments, however imperfect. They are meant to open us and tune us so that we might see and hear and feel deep within us those underlying vibrations, that vibrant, moving deeper reality we all share.
I walked along along musing about all this, and then I came upon the accident. Awe-full tragedy and reminder that we are surrounded by mystery—that Truth is always other than thought. It is said that Gandhi, who died suddenly, died saying the name of God. He spent his life praying and meditating, creating a resonant still point in the midst of the great trials and turmoil and sheer bustle of his life. May we all find our way to that kind of double life, secular and sacred, deeply engaged in life, fighting injustice and suffering, yet at the same time set apart, in it but not completely of it, open and attuned to the finest and deepest vibrations, the music of the spheres.