Listening to Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 made me think of the tides of history. The movements started with transparent motifs that made one think of someone exploring life and his world. But each movement soon descended into a deep foreboding mass of power and force, making the initial moments of carefree joy meaningless.
When I was younger, it was easy to think that the world moved on its own, and there was nothing you could do to influence events, or even your own fate. It was easy to think that everything was chance. In the TV show "Babylon 5", a significant quote is "The avalanche has started, it is too late for the pebbles to vote."
And now? Between me and my wife's family we have direct experience in three wars. Our stories sound like history books and newspaper stories. We have no illusions about personal impact on the course of history, but neither are we merely swept along with the tides. We see and notice how people are swayed, pulled by their fears, or resigned to insignificance by those who would scream the loudest. And for Prokofiev in Stalin's Soviet Union, where work done with the approval of one set of leaders would suddenly be denounced in another time, it would seem that way, a powerless man swept by the tides of history, subject to its whims and caprices.
But, as statistician/political scientist/artist Edward Tufte remarked just yesterday here in Pittsburgh, we do not live in that kind of place or that kind of time. We live in a place and time that allows us to make choices, take risks and adapt to our changing world instead of only following the herd. And as we do so we can bear the cost, reap the rewards. And live other then as sheep who follow where those play on our fears would lead us. For all its cost, we recognise there is no other place like that on this earth, and we rejoice in it.