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And In the End…

and in the end

The Beatles were one of the great rock bands of all time, and they are a band I listened to throughout my life. Most of those who are familiar with me personally know that John Lennon is one of my all-time heroes, but it is surprising that the single lyric that I believe is the most beautiful and most important written in the 20th century was penned by Paul McCartney. It’s from the Abbey Road album and is simply put “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” What a beautiful sentiment. Even now, nearly forty years after I first heard it, just listening to McCartney warble it is enough to bring tears to my eyes. Of course, I’m an old softie in that regard.

And it is wrong. It is as hopeful a line as ever written but for most of us, there is an imbalance. Some of us take far more love than we make. Now, I don’t view this as referring to the act of making love; I believe it refers to love given and love received. Now, there are plenty of people who are close enough to balanced to make the line true for most, but when you think of Donald Trump, do you think he has given as much love as he has received? Or Mother Teresa? Or Ellen de Generes? Or even John Lennon?

Lennon was far from perfect. He wrote a song as hopeful as “Imagine” but on the same album  he excoriates McCartney with “How Do You Sleep.” The preaching of love and tolerance on one hand doesn’t mix well with the savaging he gives his old writing partner. I guess it’s easier to love people in general than people in particular.

Still, the sentiment is one to be admired. When I go out, I would like to have given more love than I receive. It’s not a desire to be a martyr or anything like that – trust me, I get plenty of love – but the world needs love, as Burt Bacharach – and John Lennon – have written. These days especially. Love seems to be in short supply. We may mock the hippies for their “peace and love” attitude, but I have to tell you they weren’t wrong on that score. Not that I’m ever going to embrace patchouli oil – that stuff stinks!

And I know, it’s so much easier said than done. I’m guilty of growling that people suck when I see them behave selfishly on the road, or elect another Republican to office. It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration, particular in an era when it feels like selfishness is encouraged and selflessness ridiculed. When being generous and kind is made fun of as a sucker’s game, we’re in trouble as a species.

That’s why we all need to take a step back. I don’t know if you believe in karma, but I do believe that the attitudes we send out are reflected back to us by the world. If you believe the world is out to get you then it likely is. If you believe that the world is a beautiful place then so it is. Sure, that’s not going to insulate you from getting burned – no matter how much love you send into the ether there will always be those who return harm. That’s the nature of the game folks. None of us are exempt from emotional hurt.

And yet what defines us is how we react. Do we lash out and say “Screw everybody, I’m hurt and now I’m going to hurt others instead of getting hurt” or do we get back on the horse and send out our love? Which one do you think makes the world a better place?

And that’s what it boils down to. Do we want to make the world a better place or do we just want to bitch about what a horrible hard place it is? It begins with us. We can’t force others to open the hearts and send good feelings into the world; we can only do it ourselves. We can’t legislate compassion but we can experience it. Rather than blaming the poor for their troubles, we can find ways to make their lives better, either through education or finding them work. Instead of getting angry at climate change deniers, we can take steps to reduce our own carbon footprints. Instead of complaining about politicians, we can actually go out there and find a candidate who is worthy of our support and go out there and vote for them. Talking the talk isn’t enough in this day and age; we have to walk the walk.

And in the end, we can show our love in all sorts of ways, using the skills and talents we are given. Singing a song out loud can brighten the day of someone who needs a pick-me-up; taking out some ice cold sodas to a bunch of guys working out in the summer heat is one way of spreading good karma even if you don’t believe in it; trust me, the act of doing someone a solid is enough to make you feel good for hours.

Lennon did write “All you need is love” and like McCartney he was wrong in that assessment; we need more than love. But we do need love, all of us. We crave it; we wither without it. A kind word or gesture can be as healing as medicine. Hugs can be the stuff of wonderful memories and can color our perception of life and the world around us. Some people write off serial huggers as kooks, but I think that I’d rather be kooky than rational in that regard.

The ills of the world are many and I don’t have any illusions that giving out more hugs and being kinder in general is going to cure many of them, if any. Maybe it’s just a karmic version of shouting into the abyss but by God I’d rather shout into the darkness than cower at it. There is far too much fear and anger and not enough love and compassion. I have to believe the world would be a much better place if we all just made the attempt to be sure that the love we make is at least a little more than the love we take. Isn’t it worth a try? The other way doesn’t seem to be working.

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Heart of Gold

Heart of Gold

In a lot of ways, we define ourselves by the music we listened to growing up, particularly in our adolescent years. Listening to loud, aggressive music doesn’t necessarily make us loud, aggressive people but it certainly can pave the way.

We identify with our genre of music. Metalheads wear lots of black leather, tattoos and big hair (or no hair – shaved heads are getting more prevalent in the loud hard school). Greasers wear leather jackets, ducktails and poodle skirts. Ravers have a lot of Day-Glo and a ton of ecstasy. We all have our uniforms.

Our attitudes towards love are often informed by our attitudes towards pop songs as well. There are those who go for the real superficial pop songs in which love is more of a teenage crush. I can truly understand that – it breaks love, a complicated and confusing emotion, down to its base elements. The love in these pop songs is easy to handle. Lots of platitudes and epic proclamations of the heart that sound passionate on the surface. This love is much easier than the real thing, which can be a pain in the ass.

Then there are the more adult love songs, those that talk about love in the real world; of building a life together and battling through the obstacles that life sets before all of us. This love is imperfect. There are discussions, arguments, mistakes made and forgiveness extended – sometimes grudgingly. This love is a struggle that is, at the end of the day, worth it although in these love songs there aren’t always guaranteed happy endings.

Then there’s the third kind; the lost love songs. These are the sorts of songs that I used to relate to as a heartsick teen and even up until today. Unrequited love songs were my favorite; that was an experience I was quite familiar with as a teen and a young man. Being as hideously shy as I was with the self-confidence of an epileptic on a high wire in a disco, I had trouble expressing my feelings (and sometimes still do). I felt that I would be shot down if I were to even ask a girl out on a date and to be honest, most of my experiences taught me that it was the case. In all fairness to the girls of my high school, college and neighborhood, I can’t imagine I was much of a catch being as immature as I was. Then again, considering the way they were treated by some of the guys they did hook up with they could (and did) have done a lot worse than me.

In any case, my sensitive teen heart was drawn to those songs like a moth to a candle. One of my favorites to this day is “Everything I Own” by Bread – with lyrics like “You’re loving them so and taking them all for granted, but you lose them one day someone takes them away and they don’t hear the words you long to say.” That was me. Almost every girl I crushed on during my teens and early 20s

found other guys to hang around with and why not? How would they know I was interested if I didn’t tell them anything? I gave teenage girls much more credit for being psychic than perhaps I should have.

But it was a strain for me to talk to girls. I always felt inadequate, unlovable and unworthy. I learned to be polite and respectful, complimentary and flirtatious when I was in my late 20s and early 30s. The women at work and of other acquaintance responded to that. Still my romantic life was pretty sad – I had no money to take anyone out and when I did have any money at all I couldn’t get past my own shyness. There were a lot of wasted opportunities back then; looking back, there were plenty of women giving me hints that they wouldn’t mind going out with me but I was simply too naive or too un-self confident to interpret them. When I thought a girl was sending out signals that she liked me, I tended to disregard them as delusion. After all, what girl in her right mind would want to be with me?

So I listened to a lot of sad love songs and songs of love lost and took comfort in them. Someone else knew exactly how I was feeling. That’s a powerful thing when you’re miserable. It felt good to know I wasn’t alone. David Gates felt exactly the way I did. So did Paul McCartney, when he wrote “Eleanor Rigby” (I was certain that I would live the rest of my life alone and die that way). It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s and early 30s that I discovered that there were women attracted to me and that some of them might even consider (gasp) more than a single date with me. They might even consider (double gasp) a relationship.

That changed everything. Soon I was listening to the adult love songs and the simple love songs. “Follow You, Follow Me” by Genesis became a favorite. So did “For You” by Big Star. Marshall Crenshaw’s “Whenever You’re on My Mind” spoke to me…and I listened. Love became, at last, a possibility.

There are a lot of lonely people out there. I know, because I was one of them. I still battle my issues – my shyness remains, the depression that came out of it rears its ugly head from time to time and I continue to harbor doubts that I deserve the love that I am very fortunate to receive every single day. I’m a lucky guy. But all of us have had those dark nights when we wondered if there really was anyone out there for us. All of us have cued up those broken heart songs on our playlists to give us comfort. Don’t lie, you know you have.

I still love those songs though. They remind me of where I came from and there’s something cathartic about listening to them. It also reminds me how fragile love truly is and how easily it can disappear if you’re not willing to continue to work at it 24/7/365. I’m here to tell you that it is truly worth the effort. And that even at your darkest moment, anyone can meet their soulmate at any time. If it happened to me, it can happen to you.