piano keys

The following passage from the novel Orfeo resonated with me, as a fallible human being. Note that it refers to the avant-garde composer John Cage:

“Maybe I made a mistake. But Cage says: A ‘mistake’ is beside the point. Once anything happens, it authentically is.”
—Richard Powers, Orfeo

Of course, this is a reference to John Cage’s contention that any sounds can be thought of as music, a life-as-art philosophy. But for me, this passage is more personal than that.

I used to go into physical therapy and tell my therapist, “I made a mistake—I gave myself a setback!” And my therapist would reply, “You didn’t make a mistake.” He would explain, “Healing does not follow a straight path.”

I would often argue with him. No, I made a mistake. I did something stupid and wrong. Now my muscles are inflamed. It’s all my fault!

But he would never concede the point. I could do no wrong. It was all part of my journey; it was all okay. To quote Powers quoting Cage again, “Once anything happens, it authentically is.” There can be no talk of messing up. What you did was done in the spirit of the grand journey of life. There is only the beating-heart progression of time, and all of the events that happen within it.

Yes, I have undertaken actions that have caused me to have setbacks. Many, many times. But yes, I have learned from those experiences. And yes, sometimes the setbacks seemed utterly meaningless and even tragic. But yes, all of this is part of me now. It is part of the history of the universe now. And make no mistake—they weren’t.

What has authentically happened in your part of the universe lately?

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