Cálice (Let this cup pass from me)

September 11, 2012 | 14 comments
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Over the past year or so, I have become increasingly enamored of a popular Brazilian song, one that today makes me tear up simply from hearing the opening chords. On the surface, at least, the song, “Cálice” (Chalice), is quite religious. And its refrain is simple:

Father, let this cup pass from me
Father, let this cup pass from me
Father, let this cup pass from me
This cup of bloody red wine.

And today, of all days, I think this song is particularly fitting. I will think of it during a moment of silence.

Cálice was written for a May 1973 show in Rio de Janeiro by Gilberto Gil and Chico Buarque. As my rough translation above makes clear, it alludes to Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane, and its melody adds to the pleading of its chorus: Let this cup pass from me!

Of course, the song is about much more than this. As always, context is vital in understanding it. In 1973 Brazil had suffered under a military dictatorship for nearly a decade. At times the regime was brutal, harboring little dissent and muzzling any who would dare suggest anything incompatible with its right-wing ideology. Those who were ‘incompatible’ suffered censorship and even death.

In composing the song, Gil and Buarque were, of course, protesting against the dictatorship and its censorship. To make their point, they not only connected the suffering of Brazilians with that of Christ, but also played with words. In Portuguese, the word used for cup, Cálice, is a homophone of “Cala-se,” or “Shut up,” and the song is sung in a way that makes it sound like “Cala-se” is interrupting the verse, alluding to the interruption that is censorship. Much of the rest of the song uses similar double meanings and allusions to protest the government’s treatment of its citizens.

The government censors weren’t fooled, and Gil and Buarque weren’t permitted to perform the song. They tried during that May 1973 performance, but the censors cut off their microphones, and continued to do so as they attempted to switch among the microphones available on stage. The song wasn’t widely available until November 1978, when the regime had relaxed its policies.

To me the result of all this is a song that is as much a plea for the relief from suffering—unjust suffering due to someone’s political ideology, innocent suffering—than a simple ideological protest. Cálice is a prayer, like Christ’s words in Gethsemane, for the relief of suffering.

Our history, i.e., world history, is laden with moments of this kind of suffering. From the suffering of the Children of Israel in Egypt, to the suffering of Israel’s children under Herod; from the suffering of Christians in Rome to the suffering of non-Christians in Constantinople. The suffering of Muslims during the crusades and the suffering of Muslims and Jews in Spain and Portugal. The suffering of Africans in Africa, and on ships, and in the Americas. The suffering of Protestants and Catholics throughout Europe and over centuries. The suffering of American Indians in Peru and Mexico and in Georgia and all along a trail of tears. The suffering of Mormons and the suffering at Mountain Meadows. The suffering in Armenia and in Auschwitz. The suffering of stadiums full of people in Chile. And thousands of other places and peoples.

Oh, and the suffering on September 11, 2001.

I get a little annoyed and frustrated when I hear September 11th called “Patriot Day.” Only a politician would call the suffering of 2,977 people “patriotism.” Isn’t it clear? There were no patriots on September 11th. There were victims. Victims who suffered. Victims whose last hours were spent in terror. Victims who, in many cases, never even knew why.

I know it is popular to want to not make people into victims. But, at least in this case, they clearly are. And in general they aren’t patriots. Suffering doesn’t make you a patriot. Patriotism requires intention. Suffering just requires suffering. Mere existence is sufficient.

If we find meaning in September 11th, the meaning has to come from the suffering. How that suffering, for a time, managed to united our nation. How it discredited, even more than before, the kind of fanaticism that believes causing suffering is justified.

For me, I hope it will motivate me to try and alleviate suffering. To remember those who have suffered and to think and act in favor of those who are suffering. And to ponder on how I can insure that me and my house, and my country, are not among those who cause suffering.

So today, as I take a moment of silence, the song Cálice will run through my heart, like a prayer that has the words:

Father, let this cup pass from them
Father, let this cup pass from them
Father, let this cup pass from them
This cup of bloody red wine.

.

[You can listen to Cálice here, among many other places. The full lyrics with two different English translations are here.]

While I’ve allowed comments, I will moderate them very heavily. I expect respectful, non-political comments only.

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14 Responses to Cálice (Let this cup pass from me)

  1. Adam G. on September 11, 2012 at 8:32 am

    Rick Rescorla and the firefighters and others who ran into the building were probably not doing it specifically for love of country. One would not call their actions patriotic as such. But they weren’t just victims either and there is something akin to patriotism in their bonds of brotherhood with each other and with the men and women in the tower. Everyone who lived through that time understood well why the firefighters put up a flag outside the site.

    And Flight 93 were patriots.

    You may delete this if you like. But please realize that the attack on calling it ‘Patriot Day’ and some of the vociferous language you use there is political. I think ‘Patriot Day’ is a silly term myself, but it doesn’t really add any recognition to the victims of 9/11 to go after it in what is otherwise a measured and dignified post.

  2. Kent Larsen on September 11, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Adam, I think you and I aren’t that far apart when it comes to ‘Patriot Day.’ My point is that it doesn’t reflect well the totality of the day. Yes those on Flight 93 were patriots. I honor their efforts and recognize the lives that they saved. But the rest of the suffering on that day is dissimilar to their experience.

    I also recognize that the firefighters and other responders who entered the towers were heroic in their actions. But to call the day ‘Heroes Day’ would also not work, IMO. If we are going to remember September 11th, I think we should try to reflect as much of what happened that day as possible.

    I’m sorry if you take issue with my ‘attack’ on the name of the day. Perhaps I am politically motivated, but I don’t see it as such. I am not trying to support any particular party or individual in saying what I said, nor do I criticize ‘Patriot Day’ because of any particular ideology. I criticize it because it doesn’t reflect what happened on September 11th for the most part, and it therefore seems to promote the political purposes of those who passed it.

    I believe that September 11th is about the generally innocent suffering that happens when ideological fanaticism is driven to violence, regardless of what political ideology gives rise to it. I suppose a better name would be something like ‘Anti-Fanaticism Day’ or ‘Anti-Violence Day.’ While both are ungainly and awkward to say, it seems like they represent much better what September 11th is about.

  3. Adam Greenwood on September 11, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Fair enough.

    The best term for 9/11 is 9/11, imho. Events always outstrip the meaning we want to assign to them.

  4. Adamastor on September 11, 2012 at 10:12 am

    I’m actually using this song in one of my classes today.

    And the homophone works better if you use the imperative: “cale-se” (not to mention it makes more sense given the context of censorship).

  5. Adamastor on September 11, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Not that I don’t recognize that “cala-se” is perfectly acceptable idiomatic speech; I’m not trying to be obnoxious — far be it from me to be a prescriptivist.

  6. brandt on September 11, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Beautiful song. Absolutely beautiful.

    And while I do share some of your sentiment in calling it “Patriot’s Day,” I’ll be intrigued to see what happens when the generation that lived through it starts to get older, and the next generation who has known nothing except a post 9/11 world starts coming of age. It’s always been a somber moment to watch the news, or to even look on Facebook and see the memories of those who lived through it.

    But what happens when that generation passes? Will the remembrance be the same? I’m sure many of our grandparents who lived through Pearl Harbor felt the same veneration about December 7, 1941. And while it seems that people know the date, and know the phrase “A date which will live in infamy,” I don’t know if many of even my generation of Millennials hold that day to be as “sacred” as 9/11.

    Perhaps the advent of television, the fact that there seem to be new pictures coming out every year of the event will continue to hold this day in remembrance. Perhaps the internet will keep the day alive. I hope it does.

  7. Clair on September 11, 2012 at 10:38 am

    You can hear the song performed here, as backdrop to a political video.

  8. SilverRain on September 11, 2012 at 10:45 am

    I always thought the term “Patriot” referred to the effect on the survivors: the unification of the country, not the victims themselves….

  9. Wilfried on September 11, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Thanks, Kent. A timely tribute and a most appropriate message.

    Not to threadjack, but since you brought it up: the risk of identifying the remembrance of 9/11 as a “Patriot Day” is that it tends to alienate the rest of the world for whom 9/11 is and should remain a universal symbol of human suffering. By stressing the remembrance of 9/11 as an American patriotic event — for that is the way “patriot” will be understood –, we diminish its significance for all of humanity. Also, let us not forget, 373 people from 58 other nations died on 9/11.

    Patriotism, for many people in other lands, conjures up the image of agressive national pride. In my little country, which for many centuries has been the bloody battle field for other nations, that caused millions to die, the term “patriots” historically refers to outside invaders.

    I know, it’s all a question of semantics. But on this day, let’s indeed focus on victims and suffering in worldwide remembrance.

  10. Iguacufalls on September 11, 2012 at 11:04 am

    I’ve liked that song for a long time, but never knew the historical context in which it was written. Thanks for the clarification!

  11. Adam Greenwood on September 11, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Wilfried,
    in the aftermath of 9/11, I briefly saw a kind of civilizational patriotism, sense that an attack on one was an attack on all in a kind of global commonwealth of the mind.
    Also, frankly, a lot of Americans found some solace in a reaffirmation of the American community after this attack on American soil. I don’t feel comfortable suggesting that they need to find a different way to come together. I’ve already stated that Patriot’s Day is a little silly, but so is Victim’s Day or Solidarity Against Violence Day or Rejection of the Crude Fanaticisms of Nationalisms Day any other attempt to shoehorn public expressions of grief and rituals of comfort into the form that a particular individual or community finds most simpatico. Live and let live.

  12. Dad on September 12, 2012 at 1:26 am

    Kip: Thanks for the memories. Dad

  13. themormonbrit on September 12, 2012 at 2:13 am

    Thanks for this. I agree, Patriot Day is a little inappropriate. As you can probably tell from my name, I am not American, far less an American Patriot, and yet I still find 9/11 to be an important day that deserves to be remembered and commemorated.

  14. Laura on September 12, 2012 at 3:14 am

    What IguacuFalls said. I love this song, but I didn’t know about the political context. Thanks for educating.