Have you ever seen love up close? No, I’m not talking about the mushy, touchy-feely, here-today-gone-tomorrow kind of love. That, you see on television, depicted in graphic detail again and again every day. The popular notion of love is in our faces relentlessly, but gives no clue of what love really is. Still, I think I saw it the other day. No, I’m sure I saw it the other day.
The Lovely Lady and I had spent a couple of days in a lazy unhurried non-schedule, soaking in the experience of people-watching and unwinding at a popular breakfast restaurant, wandering into and out of countless “antique stores” (read: “collections of old junk”) and hock shops in pursuit of everything and nothing, and pretty well finding just that. We stayed in a posh downtown hotel, thanks to a discount travel service, getting up whenever we wanted and going wherever we wished. I have to admit, the banjo museum was an original treat, but I was thankful that all the banjos were behind glass where no one could play them. The walk along the river was relaxing, in spite of the 103 degree temperature, and the movie was tolerable. We did have one item that was scheduled and we made sure to keep the appointment.
The symphony was giving a holiday concert with a guest vocalist whom we have always enjoyed, so 7:00 in the evening found us striding along the city streets, folding canvas chairs slung over our shoulders, toward the events center parking lot for the free entertainment which wouldn’t start until 8:30. The streets were crowded with folks headed the same direction and there were more than a few policemen and “ambassadors” posted about to make us feel safer. As we passed one such post, I casually commented to the cheerful older gentleman that it was a bit warm. He replied, “Well one good thing…you don’t have to worry about goose-bumps out here!” Boy, was he wrong!
I won’t bore you with the long wait on the hot pavement, the searing sun on our necks, the futile waving of the advertising paper fans in an attempt to keep cool. But, as the sun plunged below the horizon and the temperature moderated a little, the musical sounds wafted through the air, first the individual warm-ups, a horn here, a viola there, then the corporate tuning session, and finally, the blending of a hundred or so individual instruments’ voices fused into one beautiful conglomeration of sound and purpose. We were content and sat in rapt attention, unmindful of the cacophony of crowd noise around us and the non-musical folks who moved to and fro through the crowd, themselves unaware of the beauty which flowed from the stage. It was an apt ending to a great relaxing weekend.
What? Did I leave something out? Oh, yes! The goose-bumps. Two things during the evening inspired those little raised spots on my neck and my arms. The vocalist (and audience) was responsible for them at a couple of junctures; once when she sang a beautiful rendition of that old hymn “How Great Thou Art” (you should have heard that huge crowd singing along) and later when she invited us to join her on “God Bless America”. Music has such a capacity for moving the human spirit and it certainly achieved that for many on that night.
This capacity was partly responsible for the other case of the chicken-flesh on that hot summer evening, but only partly. The orchestra was playing an upbeat, rhythmic piece, one which just invited the body to move. We patted our feet, maybe even tapped on our legs with our hands a little, but public decorum demanded that we go no further and we acquiesced. Not so with one fellow a few feet away from us. My eyes were drawn away from the lighted stage in front of us to glance at the man. The glance was enough to notice that he was an adult, but that he was mentally handicapped. I hope that term is acceptable. The landscape keeps changing so I’m not sure if “gifted” is more correct, or possibly “special needs”, but I use the term simply as descriptive, not as a pejorative. This young man, probably 25 or 30 years of age, clearly was moved by the music and he was not to be denied. Joyously, he was on his feet and dancing, waving his American flag, wonderfully unaware of the rules of decorum and concert etiquette. Those of us around watched him, and most smiled, but a few laughed.
Love makes you do strange things, things you wouldn’t normally do. As I worried about those unkind people laughing, I noticed that another man got up from his chair and began dancing along with the young fellow. Within moments, the young man’s mother and his sister were also up with his father and were dancing, every bit as energetically as he, spinning around him, taking his hand and urging him on in his joyous abandon. There was no embarrassment, no reticence in their celebration of their son and brother, no concern for reputation, simply a declaration of their unwavering love. The goose bumps were back, along with a little stray moisture in the corner of my eyes. I’m not sure, but I think I saw others wipe away a tear or two. Maybe it was just perspiration.
We have been conditioned to think of love as an emotion, a physical reaction to the wiles of the opposite sex. Our whole lives are tied up in the thought of fulfilling our desires and needs with love. When the reality doesn’t fit our expectation, we move on to the next relationship and start our impossible quest all over again. I would submit to you that love has nothing whatsoever to do with selfish desire and perceived need, and everything to do with living for someone else. In the unselfish actions of that young man’s family last Sunday night, I saw love. And it appeared to me that they enjoyed the dancing every bit as much as he did. What a great concert! It wasn’t the best music I have ever heard, but there were some amazing moments, both on and off the stage.
I’m not sure if the tank is full, but there’s certainly enough fuel now to keep going for a few more miles. We don’t always find the filling station where we expect it to be…and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
“Love always protects, always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres.”
(I Corinthians 13:7)
“We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love.”