This weekend, Raphi and I did something I’ll never forget: we went to the town of Paradise, where more than 80 people lost their lives last November in the Camp Fire, and we sang the solos in Beethoven’s 9th.
We drove in on the same road that had been all over the news last year: the Skyway, where residents had gotten stuck fleeing the flames of the Camp Fire. This weekend, it was as green as Ireland, with stunning views of the rugged buttes and the vale below. As we entered town, it was surreal to see how randomly the hand of destruction had moved through the businesses. A Taco Bell (closed) stood untouched next to the ruins of an auto shop. A sparklingly new hotel offered views onto charred and twisted car bodies at the remains of the Mercedes dealership across the street. Above all the rubble blindingly lit billboards and signs beckoned your eyes upward, reading “We are rebuilding together” and “Paradise will rise again” As we slowly wended our way through the char, I saw a single lit bus stop, sticking out like a single tooth in an otherwise empty gum. My eyes ran over the sight, and focused on another sign, posted for the benefit of those waiting for buses that were not coming anytime soon. “Fear is contagious, so is hope” it read. It was part of the Optimism: Pass it On campaign, and had been there long before the fire.
“Fear is contagious, so is hope.”
That became my mantra. I repeated it to myself as we parked in front of the miraculously undamaged performing arts center. I repeated it to myself as we warmed up and looked at our music, trying to shut out the things we had seen.
We performed that night to a packed house. Among the other pieces performed: a delightful March of the First Responders, written and conducted by the maestro of the Paradise Symphony Orchestra, Dr. Lloyd Roby. We cheered appearances by the fire, medical and law enforcement personnel who had saved so many lives last year.
Then, we got to sing the Ode to Joy. It wasn’t the greatest performance ever heard, just a humble offering to a community that was hungry for something tangible, something to share.
So, it turns out that hope is contagious. We all caught a case of it last night, as we reminded each other that beauty exists not just in the world around us, but anywhere that people come together to share in gratitude for what we have and who we are. And that is what Beethoven wanted us to know when he wrote that piece. I believe that, if you had told Beethoven that one day his masterpiece of brotherly love would be sung in such a time and place, he would have been as gratified as we were. It was just that kind of a night.
“Be embraced, ye millions. This kiss to the entire world!” -Schiller