Sunday, November 22, 2009

You don't know what love is

I grew up in a musical family: my mother was a classical pianist, and my father was an active member and sometime president of both the Swedish Glee Club in Chicago and the German equivalent group in Austin, Texas. My earliest memories of church all revolve around choir practice, and at the age of eight I served as page turner (with my own special choir robe) for the organist in our church.

I, too, sang; I also played the piano, though not particularly well. I learned clarinet in grade school and was asked to play bassoon in high school (primarily because I was the tallest clarinetist). I met my first husband in the pit band for Music Man -- he played saxophone, and quietly covered for me for that opening bassoon line (boomp - ta - doodly, boomp - ta - doodly) in the song "Marian the Librarian" -- and for a long time we thought it was fate that we ended up together, because for all the years of our marriage I was a librarian and he was (and still is) a jazz musician.

I spent most of my spare time outside the library, from the time I was 20 until I was 31 and we divorced, lugging musical instruments around and sitting in bars and rehearsal halls listening to music -- an interesting challenge, since I didn't (and still don't) drink much. But when I got divorced, I pretty much quit cold turkey. I continued singing in choirs and small groups, but I rarely went to concerts and never to bars.

Last night, however, was an exception: my friend Anne (and isn't it curious that two of my closest friends on this island are extraordinarily gifted jazz musicians) gave a concert in our Grace Church sanctuary to raise money for our local food bank, which is really stretched this year. So because it was Anne, and a good cause, I went.

The music -- much of which she wrote and arranged -- was absolutely heavenly, and the performances of all five of the musicians were just flawless (and trust me, after all those years surrounded by musicians I am VERY picky about this). And yet at first I found myself thinking, I hope this doesn't go on too long, I don't know how long I can sit here: I was definitely out of practice for listening. But as the evening wore on, I was gradually transported into another space, filled with joy and gratitude -- for the music, the musicians, the composers, for my community, for that particular sanctuary... and ultimately for life itself; eventually it was as if the room and the audience and the musicians and the music and I were all one.

Near the end of the concert they did a wonderful rendition of that old Billie Holiday tune, "You don't know what love is" -- a tune that also happened to be on the CD my ex-husband sent of his music after he and his wife visited us this past summer. I remember being very moved by his performance of the tune, and was moved again by Anne's; her style is actually quite similar to his, though she has a lighter, more feminine touch.

The song -- even if you don't know the lyrics -- is just achingly beautiful. And the theme of it is that you can't really understand love until you know the pain of loss. I thought of that, sitting there, in that room, with those people, and that music, and realized that the love I was feeling for the whole experience was enriched and deepened by the intensity of the losses that brought me to this place -- the loss of my parents, the loss of that ex-husband and the community of musician friends we shared, the loss of that music (I rarely if ever listen to jazz these days) -- even the loss of faith and church, though all have been returned to me in some new form: I have a different husband now, a random collection of "parents" to advise and love me, a new community of friends, a new and different faith and a renewed connection (if much more tenuous) to church.

It was yet another reminder that there are seasons in life, seasons of love and loss, and that spring and summer will inevitably return, bringing with them a deepened awareness of the blessed treasure that is love.

It's all good.

You don't know what love is
Until you’ve learned the meaning of the blues
Until you’ve loved a love you've had to lose
You don't know what love is.

You don't know how lips hurt
Until you've kissed and had to pay the cost
Until you've flipped your heart and you have lost
You don't know what love is

Do you know how a lost heart fears
The thought of reminiscing
And how lips that taste of tears
Lose their taste for kissing

You don't know how hearts burn
For love that cannot live yet never dies
Until you've faced each dawn with sleepless eyes
You don't know what love is


Maureen said...

Really enjoyed reading your post today.

Thanks for the song, and the lyrics.

Anonymous said...

My wife sings this song like a bird. Love it.