We will get to the 19th century, and to the music that transforms me into a merman, but first we must start with zombies.
In the horror movie 28 Days Later, a virus that transforms humans into zombies has destroyed London. Four uninfected people learn on the radio that an army base offers safety to the uninfected ("salvation is here"). The four jump into a cab and head north on a desolate motorway. During their trip, we hear on the soundtrack one of the most ethereal pieces of music ever composed. It is Gabriel Fauré's In Paradisum ("Into Paradise"), the last work in his masterpiece Requiem—Latin songs from the Catholic Mass for the Dead.
In a funeral program, In Paradisum is for the moment a corpse is transported from its final observance in the church to its lowering in the graveyard. In the movie, the music presents a tranquil moment during the journey from humans infected by the monster virus to humans who are monsters because they are... humans.
Fauré, a French organist and composer who achieved fame at the end of the 19th century, composed the Requiem in the late 1880s. It is one of his few long works, and also one of his few religious works. The religious status of the Requiem is made strange by the fact that Fauré did not believe in God, despite being trained as a church organist and working as one for the L'église de la Madeleine (the Church of Madeleine). But from this godless man came the most God-filled music imaginable.
I'm an atheist, but I do believe in the God in Fauré's Requiem. I have never felt Him present in a megachurch, but I have felt Him at home in each of this work's seven utterly beautiful movements.
A reason for this is Fauré's interpretation of the Catholic Mass for the Dead is pretty much deathless. And this deathlessness is no accident. He purposely removed the dark sides of a mass from his interpretation. The usual Catholic God, if crossed, banishes you to the everlasting spiritual burning of your flesh.
Fauré wanted nothing to do with a barbaric King of Kings. He removed from his Requiem the Dies irae ("the Day of Wrath"—or Judgment Day), and Latin passages that made God sound too angry. He wanted a death that was soothing. No monsters here, no fear, and, most importantly, no drama.
The removing of the Dies irae in a requiem was like removing the spectacular, climactic battle scene from a superhero film. Fauré wanted his work and his God to be as gentle as him. He wrote to a friend: "Elle est d'un caractère doux comme moi-meme" ("It is gentle in character, like myself").
Now, I have a thing that happens not long after midnight. It goes like this. I awaken. My room is dark. It is too early for me to open a book and read until dawn. I order Alexa to play ocean sounds; then I connect my phone, via Bluetooth, to a speaker and play Fauré's In Paradisum; then I prop the top of my body on four or so pillows; and then I smoke a little CBD/THC joint.
It takes only two minutes for me to be transformed into a merman. I'm on a beach. And again and again, rising warm water reaches my scaly body, and then returns to the sea, which reflects the light of a full moon. In the distance, there's an island. And on this island, there's a cathedral with a choir and organist performing In Paradisum. At this moment, I'm the most enchanted merman in the universe.