Like many families, we Raineys have consumed more than our usual diet of Netflix movies lately. Last weekend we enjoyed The Shawshank Redemption, which my children had never seen. Those of you who remember it will doubtless recall the scene in which Tim Robbins’ character, Andy Dufresne, locks the warden out of his office and broadcasts Mozart’s wistful “Sull’aria” duettino from The Marriage of Figaro across the prison yard. For just a moment, time ceases to exist.
I love the word “relief.” It takes its meaning from the Latin verb relevāre, meaning “to lift up” or “to lighten.” Relief is escape, distraction, a happy interruption. Our present, relentlessly uniform experience of life welcomes relief when it arrives, ever the more when unexpected. In the backyard of the campus residence a few evenings ago, I began to notice the songs of birds in the trees around me. I do not know whether their chorus grew in number or my attention involuntarily concentrated on their voices, but soon there were sparrows and warblers and robins and wrens and jays all in my ears, singing in relief of the day, crowding out all other sounds. Their refrains were for all the world like those of an orchestra warming for a performance. It was as though I had never heard birdsong before. Maybe I hadn’t.
Spring is arriving in relief of winter. Earth Day arrived on Wednesday, in relief of our week now ending. Pollen collects on our porches and vehicles. “For this is love and nothing else is love,” says Robert Frost of spring. Whether the metaphorical winter of our present uniform experience of life is itself in retreat is not yet certain, but relief rises all around us in the actual spring of our world nevertheless. Concentrate on its sounds.
In The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, says of the women performing Mozart’s duettino, “I like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared, higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream.”
If this message finds you in a gray place, I wish for you the discovery of your own “Sull’aria,” your own choir of birds, your own moments of relief. For my part, I look forward to the relief of seeing you again, whenever it may be.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. Best wishes for a happy weekend with your families.
Head of School