love and charity

Love Is Here to Stay

On Brittany Maynard and George Gershwin 

In 1938, George Gershwin, gifted composer and songwriter with his brother Ira, died at a tragically young age of brain cancer. His death was sudden, and Ira was devastated. George had left one song melody to which Ira had not yet written the words. When he finally sat down to write them, he entitled it, “Love is Here to Stay.”

In the sentimental lyrics, it’s easy to hear the echoes of Ira’s grief as he copes with George’s death. Most renditions don’t include the intro, but it speaks poignantly of a search for stability in a tragic world:

photo credit: wmky

The more I read the papers
The less I comprehend
The world and all its capers
And how it all will end.

Nothing seems to be lasting—
But that isn’t our affair
We’ve got something permanent,
I mean, in the way we care.

The song then enters its main theme, the theme of everlasting love:

It’s very clear,
Our love is here to stay
Not for a year
But ever and a day.

The radio and the telephone
And the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies
And in time they go—
But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay. . . .

In time the Rockies may crumble,
Gibraltar may tumble;
They’re only made of clay,
But our love is here to stay.

Of all the songs the brothers wrote together, this posthumous one touches the most powerful truth: that human beings, in the midst of suffering, want a love that doesn’t end. They don’t want a world that constantly changes, that gives only to take away, a pain-filled world that crumbles around us leaving us empty and longing for something permanent. It’s hard enough to cope not only with “the world and all it’s capers,” but, like Ira Gershwin, with a more personal—we can even say, more painful—loss. Even surrounded by a disintegrating world, the human heart finds solace in the permanence of love and in knowing that love makes perseverance through suffering valuable.

Yet, not everyone sees value in suffering with love. For some, love is a many-splendored but totally temporal thing, which suffering renders impotent and death cuts off with finality. To them, heartache, pain, and suffering are simply to be avoided at all costs, and ultimately an invitation to despair.

I was reminded of this sadder perspective when I encountered the recent buzz over another individual suffering from brain cancer—Brittany Maynard, a woman who has very publicly decided she would rather commit suicide than accept suffering for herself or her family. Her response—at root a pitiable but also selfish one—stands out in particular contrast, for me, with the other people I know who have battled similar illnesses.

One woman, Elise, who is battling breast cancer, has five children, one of them an infant, and is facing this battle with a radically different attitude: an attitude of loving trust, of confident surrender to the Providence of God. Or I think of Andre, a 14 year old hero, who lived every day of his short life to the fullest even though he spent his final years suffering in a hospitable bed with a very low “quality of life.” His suffering, his sacrifice, his courage and joy, and especially his faith in God, fundamentally impacted—even sanctified—the people around him.

This is the difference: people like Brittany see no value in suffering that is offered up in love, but people like Andre and Elise really live their belief in a loving God who can bring goodness out of the worst heartache or most devastating medical diagnoses. They really live the love only hinted at in the sweet 1930s love song—that real and perfect love, the love of God, which is here to stay. It is a permanent, life-changing event, in the face of which death and suffering have lost their sting. Unlike Brittany, they face the painful, frightening battle or suffering and death with a response of love—a love that fills their suffering with significance far beyond the comprehension of the world.

And that mystery is why, while everything may indeed be going to hell in a handbasket and maybe after all the world is coming to an imminent end around us, Christians live differently. “We’ve got something permanent—I mean, in the way we care.” We don’t face radical loss the same way as other people do. We face it with the confidence that no matter what comes, this changing life is not all.

Christians live differently, because for us, this life is just the beginning. As impermanent as this world is, we know we’re destined for something more. This life is only the prelude, the intro to the final love song—when Love will be here to stay.

photo credit: classicfm


When Love is Inconvenient

I spent ten days on a friend’s couch a few summers ago. I was interning in DC, and being from out of state, had nowhere to go between the end of the school year, the start of my internship, and the time that intern housing opened up where I was supposed to stay the rest of the summer.

photo cred: the guardian

With most of my belongings crammed in my car, I lived out of a suitcase or two for awhile, my compact life scattered around the tiny living room of my friend’s apartment.

That internship did a lot for me: helped me hone my career options, put some solid professional experience on my resume, and networked me a few references that I’m positive had serious impact on landing me the full-time job I have now. And in a partial way, I owe that to the generosity of my friend—since taking the internship would have been, oddly, considerably more difficult to arrange without her couch.

But she didn’t know any of that would happen. She didn’t have to put me up for ten days. She barely knew me, had graduated several years before I did, and the only claim I had to her friendship was that we had worked on the college newspaper together. But when I approached her with my awkward and rather desperate request, she welcomed me to her home, fed me, and put up with my mess and the fact that I had to use her shower and borrow her blankets for more than a week with not only social graciousness but real charity.

Often, when we think of charity, magnanimous but relatively easy actions come to mind. Dropping a dollar in the poor box; smiling at someone we dislike. (Which are truly charitable actions.) But while it is easy to envision ourselves fulfilling these neat, practical little acts of charity (at our convenience, when we remember, as we see the need), love doesn’t work that way.

What about those other times? When love isn’t convenient? When it isn’t easy? When it means disrupting our carefully balanced routine, dropping our hoped-for plans, putting us out of our comfort zone and even requiring that we be uncomfortable to help someone else?

Love often asks kindness when it is inconvenient; charity when it is annoying.

Love is to be there for someone who needs us when we really wish they weren’t having this crisis right now and when we feel sure we have more productive ways to spend our time.

Answering the phone when you’d rather continue what you’re doing; being patient with a child when you’re both feeling grumpy or tired. Offering assistance when it’s easier and safer to offer advice. Resisting the urge to just dismiss the homeless man on the corner with the thought, “Somebody will take care of him.”

In these ways, love asks more than we want. Charity turns its eyes to us and expects us to answer with generosity. As Paul said in the readings for today: “Love never fails.” When we succeed, when we choose to be other-centered, then that is love—whether it’s convenient or not.