One of our family's favorite summer pastimes is to spend the evening at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. A smile says a thousand words, and those of you who know our son Danny won't be surprised that this smile was captured during a recent performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." Considered a ground-breaking masterpiece, "Rhapsody in Blue" is perhaps best known (especially among young men on the autism spectrum), as the theme song for United Airlines, heard in commercials and as travelers pass through the neon-lit walkway connecting concourses in Terminal 1 at O'Hare International Airport.
Many of you are thinking, here she goes again, writing about Danny, and it's true, he is my favorite subject. As Danny's mom, I know that nothing feeds the soul of a young adult with an interest in (borderline obsession with) aviation and classical music like sitting under the stars on a clear summer evening listening to "Rhapsody in Blue." However, what struck me about that evening at Ravinia is the power of music to move and lift people who come to the park with varied backgrounds, experiences and abilities to what seems like a shared space of rapture and awe.
The people who came to Ravinia that evening brought more than lawn chairs and a picnic basket. We brought along our son with a disability and worries about finding capable caregivers for him, now and into the future. Others were accompanied by illness, loss, relationship issues, work frustrations or dismay over the polarization around political views that seems more pervasive than ever.
Together we settled in, our family joining with others on the lawn, while a full crowd took seats in the pavilion. Once the concert began, except for the music, there was not a sound to be heard. Curious to know about the experience inside, I ventured to the pavilion for a peak at the performance. To a person, the crowd was absolutely rapt, intently listening and absorbing the sounds and experience. They seemed to be swept away, individually and collectively, by the brilliance of the composition and its execution by some of the world's most talented musicians. I felt a bit like a voyeur, looking from the outside in, and what I saw felt like hope and inspiration.
I saw that no matter how different we are, or what burdens we carry, as humans we have the emotional yearning and capacity to acknowledge beauty, and to marvel at artistry. For once, what Danny experienced, and how he and the rest of the audience experienced it, were one and the same; the feelings were warm, wondrous, shared and universal. And I rejoiced that we had found one place where being different doesn't matter.
Our family left the park with all our belongings, which by itself is noteworthy. I left happy and content with images in my mind's eye that I will hold dear for a long while. To see that people can be touched by music in such a profound way served as a necessary and powerful reminder that we are raising our sons and daughters with disabilities in a world full of compassion and hope.