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04/26/2022 10:52:20 AM


Life can be heartbreaking as well as healing

Jon Batiste, the bandleader of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, won five 2022 Grammy Awards recently, more than any other artist, including one for album of the year (for We Are) and others for best American roots performance and song, best music video and best original score for visual media. 

In his acceptance speeches, Batiste said, "God gave us 12 notes [on the musical scale]. It's the same 12 notes that Duke Ellington had, that Bach had, Nina Simone," he said. "I'm thankful to God for those 12 notes!" 

Batiste, 34, said We Are is "an album about community, about being together and facing the situations that come in life. I wanted to send a cathartic, spiritual message, especially in dealing with the difficult situations that so many people have gone through in the last couple of years."

The title track contains the lyric, "The ghetto is full of stars. Watch them shine from afar on days when it's hard and always. Nana knows how to sing and soothes us all from summer to fall and always. Joy, she won't let it go. Joy that she doesn't know what she doesn't know. … We are the golden ones. … We are the chosen ones. … We're never alone."

The song text reflects the musician's own experience. Last fall, when Batiste learned he had been nominated for 11 Grammy Awards, he was in a hospital ward with his long-time girlfriend, Suleika Jaouad, as she began the first day of chemo in her second battle with leukemia.

"These phone calls of congratulations were coming in," 33-year-old Jaouad recalled, "and we were having to hold these two realities, holding the absolutely gutting, heartbreaking painful things and the beautiful, soulful things in the same palm of one hand. And it's hard to do that, but you have to do that because otherwise, the grief takes over."

"There's so much that life has to offer. It's melancholy a little bit," Batiste acknowledged. "But it's also … beautiful. I'll take the good with the bad. I want to be here. I want to be alive."

Such a sentiment fits in perfectly with the time of year in Jewish tradition. We are in the counting of the Omer, a time of anxiety, fear, and ironically also gratitude as we move from Passover to Shavuot, from freedom to revelation. In ancient times Israelite farmers sweated out this season, hoping there would be food for the harvest. There are also legends that many rabbis perished of disease during this period.

Life can be heartbreaking as well as healing. The counting of the Omer reminds us to embrace each day with anxiety but also appreciation, a strange mix of course. As I like to say, whatever is going on it is best if we remember—if possible—that the best address in the world is living on Gratitude Street.

These lines from the prophet Habakkuk are not easy to live by but they present a spiritual challenge worth considering:


    Habakkuk 3:17-18

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
    and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
    and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
    and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
    I will exult in the God of my salvation.

Sun, February 5 2023 14 Sh'vat 5783