A Way to Live Life

Allow me a moment to present the backstory to this essay. I write essays, I teach online, and I am in the beginning process of raising a half million dollars for 1250 laptops for two schools in Myanmar. Essentially, my life is spent in front of my computer from early morning to late at night. The only other responsibility is to that care of Ginger, my 80-pound Irish Setter. While I work, I always have music playing quietly in the background. It soothes my hyperactive brain while I deal with my list of things that I must do each day. There are more than a dozen classical pieces of music that I love, which range from Schumann, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, to Beethoven. I can set the piece of music to repeat over and over.

However, while I love all those composers, I am haunted by Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 in C-Minor, Op. 13, Sonata Pathétique, especially the cantabile, which is the middle part of the three part sonata. Now, you are probably saying to yourselves that I am a musical aficionado. Nope. I can’t read music; I can’t even sing. Nonetheless, I truly love listening to the classical music as I write and teach.


Beethoven wrote his eighth sonata at the age of 27 in 1798. Pathétique means emotional or passionate. Some scholars believe that Beethoven seemed to address some sort of sorrow. Interestingly, Beethoven’s Pathétique, while following all the classical era’s rules, pushed beyond the guidelines. It was as if his sonata said this is where music was going in the future. Even after 200 years, it is still haunting to me and millions of others.

However, that is how those in the know musically write about Pathétique. I respect the history, but what moves me passionately and emotionally is the repeating of the theme in the cantabile. If any piece of music defines how I face life it is the short coda at the very end of the cantabile. Remember, when I use Pathétique as background music while writing or teaching, it repeats the cantabile again and again on my computer.

Listen to the entire cantabile, but notice around 4:30 the theme begins to die and then the coda seems like a resurrection of the sonata.

Essentially, what I hear is the very essence of my life being repeated. Take any axial moment or period in my life, it builds and builds into a crescendo then dies. Great hopes and dreams rise and rise, and then are thwarted. However, since Pathétique repeats over and over itself, it is like birth of hope that is dashed. There is a rebirth. The sequence is similar to the reincarnation of my dreams.

In a way, Beethoven is a musical version of Randy Pausch. I have done the dance with death twice. After I fully grasped the painful experience of coming close to dying could I truly became alive. That tension between hope and dashed dreams isn’t a pleasant feeling. Nonetheless, there must always be the dream of a resurrection of oneself. That is for me the beauty of Pathétique. I reinforce my dreaming…even if some of my dreams seem destined to disappointment. Interestingly, those dreams about which I fear failure are the most important dreams. That tension haunts me between the greatest of dreams and fear of failure.

Do you want me to be absolutely honest with you? To paraphrase a mentor of mine, Don Quixote, I am willing to march into hell for what I truly believe. I have fallen, but each time that I fall, I rise again. I might lose. My impossible dream may be dashed by unintentional reasons; man, I get that reality. I feel that in my gut. However, I would rather fail while trying than to fail while not trying.

Time will tell. Teddy Roosevelt, another mentor, said,

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Therefore, here are several critical issues, which won’t assure my success or yours, but not following these suggestions will assure failure.

1. Be honest all the time. Explain clearly what you want and why.

2. Process the situation. Get everyone up to speed and on the same page.

3. Be a knight errant like Don Quixote.

4. Finally, live your life full of dreams that you are attempting to master. While you won’t win all the time, you are building a legacy. It will be how people will remember you. Your choice is between being a dreamer or a “cold and timid” hollow person. In the face of failure at least you and I failed “while daring greatly.”

In case you haven’t noticed, this is the single most important and honest essay that I have every written in a quarter of a century. It is my Rogerian self-analysis. There is a strange feeling of resolution inside me. I don’t know the future, but I know who I am. And that counts.