The first time I heard Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” was a gift.
I had heard the piece’s name before and was vaguely aware of Beethoven as a historical figure. I had caught chance snippets of the melody, but had no idea what the song was.
I was friends with an experienced piano player, and when I hummed a few notes of the distinctive tune she knew it by heart. She played it for me, then and there, at no cost. Listening to her play that song was helplessly and hauntingly beautiful. In the time since, I have learned the difference between a gift and a product.
I have since found that I can go on YouTube and find thousands of renditions of this same song.
You can choose from professional recordings, high school recitals and some pretty funky dubstep remixes.
Many of these recordings are artfully and uniquely done. Some of them represent the absolute pinnacle of professional playing, done by master scholars who bring more out of the piece than I can possibly comprehend.
I do not need to know anything about the artist to enjoy the piece; in fact, the artist is inconsequential. The work itself is all that I have to care about. Each of these pieces, just like my friends, costs me absolutely nothing.
However, not one of the infinite sound clips I hound through can ever strike me the same as that friend exercising her skill in a drab piano practice room.
No matter how masterful a product it may be, it can never be anything more than a product, an object to be consumed. I control it. I can find a piece, listen, pause, replay (or not) as I please. But it will never quite please me. It is free and available, but is not a gift.
I lost touch with that piano friend, and with her I lost her gift. When this happened, I found that I cannot create any substitute for what had been given to me.
I can have at my fingertips the exact same product, but I was not given a product. I was given a gift, something someone else had mastered, created and then personally given to me. That gift has been taken away.
I believe the meaning of life is found in gifts. It is found in their pursuit, in their giving and receiving. The Son of Man was himself a gift to mankind, infinitely beyond being earned, demanded or created.
The moment you control something, it ceases to have power over you. When something can be possessed on command, it devalues.
Do not believe this world is so small that you can demand all you wish from it, or you will kill its best gifts to you.