Missive #03 - "The Greatest Gift"
A long time ago—it was well over a hundred years ago (it may have been yesterday) I officiated a wedding in Strawberry Fields in Central Park. We were a few people gathered around two friends who had come together to make promises to one another, to make a new life together, and we were there as witnesses. We came to pray for them and cheer them on.
Witnesses! What a thing to see! We may as well have been watching a dragon be born, or the construction of a cathedral by children from thread and wax and smoke, this enormous and gorgeous act: to make promises like that to each other.
For how is it possible to make those demands of yourself days and years in advance? How do you know who you will be then?
Or how do you know who you are now, or who that other human will be when the time comes?
(And the time is always coming.) It is always here.
So we prayed for them, because anyone who makes those kinds of promises needs to be prayed for. And we cheered them on, because everyone who makes those kinds of promises deserves our highest praise and encouragement.
We sang them on, too. Sufjan was there and he brought his banjo, and he stepped forward in our little circle and sang a song he wrote, and the notes and his voice threaded through the wind and the day as strong fragile as love:
But the greatest gift of all
And the law above all laws
Is to love your friends and lovers
To lay down your life for your brothers
As you abide in peace
So will your delight increase
Afterwards there was laughter, and pretty dresses gathered up into taxis, and there was wine and food, and there was—How do I say this?—the confidence that rules days like that. Our lives felt so buoyed by the optimal circumstances: the steadfast green of Central Park, the shining of the buildings, and of our eyes. Love seems especially eager when we believe ourselves to be so very far from the specter of trouble, and the laying down of our lives doesn’t seem like it’ll be hard at all.
I do not know what that feeling is called when we are so hopeful and happy, believing we could do anything, just knowing that joy is not only possible, but inevitable.
I am happy to call it love, I suppose. It’d be miserly not to do so.
But that night, as each one of us who’d been there got in our beds—alone, or coupled up—and turned out the lights, the dark arrived, as it always does, and we all came that much closer to the day when our loves would have to assume other postures: love not lifted on the wave of a perfect day, but love that pulls you under. Love that demands to be heard over the din not of a party, but a fight. Or a fire. Or a furious clinging to what you know to be wrong, but you cannot let go of it because of the panic and pride. Love turning over the tables of contentedness and asking such terrible questions of us that we too often cannot answer.
I never again heard the song Sufjan sang that day until about a year ago. He had made made a recording of it, and when he sent it to me, he told me he wasn’t going to release it and that we could have it. Another gift from him to us, and once again, as his gifts often are, so timely, because I thought of the record we were in the midst of making, Light Up The Stairs, songs about how terribly difficult and necessary it is to both give and receive love: with God, with each other, and with ourselves.
We heard that song all those years ago—and we sing it for you now—in the hope and belief that the gift of love is real, and that it can be given on the best days of our lives, and but also on the worst. We do not claim to be good at love, but we continue to try. And as we do so, we look to the God who has given us the greatest gift of all, which is his Love.
PS. The cover drawing is done by Monique of her friend's dog. His name is Bedford!