The tenor singing the role of Gandhi stood center stage, unmoving except for a firm and precise mouth which emitted the same sweet, strong phrased sound again and again. Bare shouldered and wrapped in the simple white garb of India’s poor, hand resting on a slender staff, his face astonishingly held a look of focused intensity—singing or silent—for nearly four hours. The Metropolitan’s production of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha was as much a tour de force of acting as it was of music. One could literally feel Gandhi’s flowing strength, uninterrupted even in death.
Glass’s minimalist and repetitive musical lines (which I have often derided as tiring a monotony as the Norwegian tundra where he made his home) underscored with ever rising emotive power the force of Gandhi’s message. The Sanskrit libretto and minimal subtitles continually relegated me to a place of seeing, hearing, and feeling without my accustomed recourse to rational review. I left feeling I learned something in my body which I am still trying to parse out in my head.
The key I think, is in the last act where, framed above Gandhi were boxes of silhouettes—American scenes of African Americans being beaten, King speeching, people marching.
Central tenants of Satyagraha are: harbor no hatred or anger for anyone; live by truth and firmness and love. The phase that arose again and again only to disappear again in the tumult was “spiritual athlete.” From where to we attain the strength to face prejudice and violence, to continue our never-ending task of changing the world? According to satyagraha is it from the daily rigor of waiting, listening, abstaining, praying. Strength is found and reinforced by the moment to moment to moment faithfulness to a course, and continuity between lifestyle, philosophy, and goal.
It seems far from me, this continuity, this wholeness, this shalem from which comes shalom even in the midst of struggle, but I remind myself that daily there are opportunities to draw nearer this purity.
The first step is to accept progress in increments.
The next step is to take a step itself, and stay that course.