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Transcending Through Limits

Two weeks ago, I discovered a new facet of my mind’s functionality. In other words, I learned a new trick. It all started on a Friday night. I usually reserve Friday nights at Bethel for working in the archives of the library. Hiding myself away in the dark Bowen basement, I begin to reassemble the large stacks of books that I am responsible for placing in their distinct region on the shelves, their sole purpose being to collect dust and exist. This particular Friday, however, I was yearning to be something other than a hidden, dusty book. Earlier that week, I’d glimpsed a poster of an older man wearing a tuxedo that read:

“Come see Sam Rotman, concert pianist, master of Beethoven coming to Bethel University to give a concert!”

Upon reading this, I resolved to see the man in the tuxedo playing the black and white keys. That night, arriving at the Kelley Auditorium, I was met with a small crowd forming. I added myself to this crowd, taking up a row by myself. The man who I assumed to be Sam Rotman strutted into the small room, wearing what I assumed to be the same tuxedo from the poster. It turned out that his luggage was lost in his travels, and he was borrowing a suit from an old friend. I was excited to relax after a long week; historically, piano music has always made me feel like I’m floating through different realms while remaining in my physical body. Needless to say, I was anticipating this sensation. What I got was something more, something different. I was transfixed by his playing, but I was not relaxed. I felt like I was hearing a story being laid out for me, inviting me to take part in the journey, and instead of sinking into my chair in leisure, I was on the edge of my seat.

In between his reincarnations of Beethoven’s masterpieces, Mr. Rotman got up from his piano bench and educated the now-formed crowd in the backstory of each piece. “Pathetique” was the name of the song that moved me near to tears. The song itself was not necessarily incredibly demanding (especially for a musician of Beethoven’s caliber) but its true meaning lay in its history. The piece was written while Beethoven was losing his hearing. Pathetique is a song of conversation within oneself, the right hand plays and the left hand responds, hence Beethoven’s arguing with himself. Before playing this lovely piece, however, Sam Rotman asked his audience to do an exercise with him.

“Did you know that you can hear music in your head without having to hear it?” I was confused about this. Of course that was not possible.

“I will start singing the Star Spangled Banner, and you will finish it in your head. It’s easy, trust me.” Sam Rotman began to sing.

He sang the first few notes of the national anthem, and then the rest of the song was left up to the imagination, literally. This was the facet of my brain that was unlocked for me which I mentioned earlier. I had never known, or possibly just never noted consciously, that I could make music simply in my mind. What happened after Sam sang those notes was marvelous to me. I heard the rest of the song in my head without any music or guidance other than the notes that came before.

Sam went on:

“Even this exercise, however, cannot truly help us understand how Beethoven was able to create music with only his mind, because he went completely deaf, and could not hear any notes at all. He actually stated that God gave him the music, all he did was write it down and perform it.” This sent my mind for a spin. A man who couldn’t hear anything was able to produce some of the most beautiful music in the entire world. This is the moment when the tears began to form in my eyes. I listened to Sam Rotman, the vessel for Beethoven’s wonders, closed my eyes, and remained myself but became something else if only for the duration of the song. I tried to imagine the blank walls of my mind being solely consumed with music, no other sounds could penetrate.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver, on the surface, is a short story about a physically blind man and a man blinded by his own pride who have a long conversation. The narrator of the story is averse to meeting Robert, the blind man, possibly out of a jealousy relating to the emotional closeness of his own wife to Robert. However, the meeting among the three takes a different turn than the narrator originally thought. Robert opens the eyes of the narrator to a new facet of his mind through a drawing. They both close their eyes, hands clasped, and the narrator leads Robert’s hand through drawing all the lines and curves that make up a cathedral. Though the narrator is the one drawing, it is actually Robert guiding him in his depiction of the cathedral, pressing his hand into the paper, feeling each bit of the cathedral and understanding it without ever seeing a cathedral in his life. The emphasis of the story, however, is not on what Robert feels, but how the narrator feels.

“It’s really something,” says the narrator.

It is really something. Being blind to true beauty, being deaf to real music, are aspects of myself that I don’t think about most days. However, when I think about my experience in transcending myself at the piano concert, and I think about Robert the blind man revealing something to the narrator in Cathedral, I think to myself, “There is more to life.”

I don’t know exactly what that sentiment is supposed to mean. To me, the ambiguous ending of Cathedral communicates a state of transcendence when we encounter a new dimension of ourselves, or of others. Maybe I will never be blind, the narrator in Cathedral will never be actually blind, but there are kinds of deafness in my life that I possess, kinds of blindness that the narrator possesses. However, putting a limit on our senses actually has the ability to transform rather than hinder. Maybe the way to transcend ourselves is to first limit ourselves.

Perhaps the conversations we can only have with ourselves, from Beethoven's right hand to his left, passing by in a fleeting moment and nearly imperceptible to others, are oftentimes more revealing and profound than the words we voice for the world to hear. The silence between the music, when we are left alone with ourselves, when we see and feel beauty between the notes and between the strokes of the pen, it's really something.


"Transcending Through Limits," written by Jordan Mihut, was proffesor-nominated as an outstanding FYE piece published in the Spring 2022 edition of The Crossings "Author's on the Rise."

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