Heaven at the Holidays

Stephen Kuusisto, Letters to Borges

I don’t read pop psychology very much and when I do I avoid the more treacly kind—Leo Buscaglia’s “The Life of Freddy the Leaf” or Mitch Albom who blithely imagines people he’ll meet in heaven. I’m confident I’ll find no one in heaven as that’s of course what makes it heaven and one is better off admitting the afterlife is essentially nothing more than the first stirrings of social desire in the infancy of imagination. (Of heaven I’ve always liked Christopher Hitchens’ view that the Christian model is a kind of spiritual North Korea.)

Heaven is the original dull book, a composition which, rendered as music, is hardly more interesting than Gregorian chant. There’s no harmony in it. If Christianity is without sophistication, well, one might say, its hard to listen to. Mark Twain understood the problem better than anyone when he pictured heaven as a place where no one knows how to play the harp, hence it offers a cacophony of child like pluckings.

Why am I “on” about heaven? In part because I prefer mine in musical form, Josquin Desprez or Palestrina. I like it when, in Handel’s “Messiah” the voices move from bass to soprano. Heaven is best when heard and finest when complex.

In keeping with musical paradise, it’s good to recap that Beethoven believed his third symphony the “Eroica” was his finest accomplishment. It’s musically ambitious, structurally sophisticated, and it has plenty of early Romantic idealism. That is heaven.


Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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