One evening in Warsaw, after a long day of visiting museums and memorials, I stumbled upon a Chopin concert. After learning of the worst in World War II, the unavoidable lessons of the brutality and cruelty that humankind is capable of, the concert reminded me that humans are also capable of something else. At the Warsaw Cemetery, visitors turned silent when they viewed the mass grave in front of them. The way the pianist evoked the sounds of Chopin stunned the audience again into silence. Though we are shocked by horrors, we are also awed by beauty.
In Krakow, Amon Goeth and the SS allowed Leo Rosner—a musician—to continue living as long as he played music for them. On the Titanic, a group of musicians played on the boat as it sunk. If there is such thing as magic, I am convinced it’s music. When someone is in the worst of emotional states—deep mourning or depression or anger—it’s music that, at least momentarily, can take you out of yourself. It can lift you up to a place the mystics have spent lifetimes trying to reach.
The pianist’s fingers flew so fast I could hardly believe it, and when it was over, I returned to the streets of Warsaw in a state of contentment. I had dinner in Old Town, a section restored after the Nazis razed the city in 1944, sitting at an outside table. While savoring a cup of chicken soup and scarfing down a plate of buttery pierogies, I watched families stroll up and down the city streets. I overheard conversations about jobs, money, and travel. I observed a child and her grandma laughing while sharing an ice cream cone.
I paid the check and turned in for the evening. But before I went back inside my hotel, I looked one last time at the city streets, at the buildings, at the people, and smiled with a thought: humans destroy, yet they also create.