The packed house rose as one in thunderous appreciation, its sense of artistry and taste confirmed, its ear for excellence endorsed. It instinctively knew brilliance. On stage, taking its bow, was the elementary school rhythm band. Out front, with its doting applause, was a collection of relatives and friends idolizing the commonplace, presumably to inspire the young.
There’s been, one supposes, a lot of that sort of thing going around for many moons in a world increasingly ravenous for the sensational and its heroes and geniuses: In distant times one could distinguish between the virtuosity of Pavarotti and Sills and the mediocrity of neighbourhood spear carriers; between the brilliance of Hepburn and Gielgud and a myriad of maids and minions; between Williams and DiMaggio and the benchwarmers.
But the day has long been rolling out when, if one gets mentioned in the program, one is a “star”, ushering in a new category – the “superstar” – that prompted a one-time Canadian Football League running back to modestly declare himself an “ordinary superstar.” Currently, stardom is hung on anybody who shows up for work and doesn’t wreck for the furniture; adjectives like “awesome, “amazing”, and “sensational” rise to glorify the ordinary while obscuring the exceptional; trivia abounds while the extraordinary is pushed to extinction.
Among the most notable casualties of linguistic assassination is the word “love”, victimized to insignificance, seemingly stripped of meaning and import. Of course wives, husbands, children, parents are routinely adored, yet the making of love describes anything from the intense union of two passionate spirits to some drunken groping in the back seat of father’s Buick. It gets worse when one is said to “love” Hank Snow, or chocolate chip cookies, or walking on the beach. Seven-year-olds are in some places persuaded – by Valentine’s Day custom – to distribute, across their classrooms, cardboard pledges of eternal devotion to everyone in sight.
In any event, whatever “love” is about, it’s not about sex that plays out all the way from violent animal compulsion to a generous and willing exchange of tender devotion. Certainly, it’s not about physical, intellectual or psychological dominance since, when power enters, fondness leaves; when coercion shows up, fear comes with it.
The church, to its limited credit, is fond of throwing the term around, still with dubious ability to give it much satisfying substance. Clerics are fond of proclaiming its vitality and its direct connection to God; Sunday School teachers proclaim it to six year olds, the importance of divide ardor as the sine qua non of salvation. In one’s better moments, one knows, almost instinctively, that genuine devotion is the best possible commitment one human can hold for another, however unrequited.
Tough one, isn’t it! And it’s made so by the way it’s so regularly couched in terms that are trite and trifling. Pulpits and pastors are always trying to set the matter straight and haven’t been doing too well, due only in part to the reality of their shrinking audiences.
So let’s turn to the counsel of that eminent theologian William Shakespeare.
Here’s how he put it:
Let me not to the marriage of two minds admit impediments.
Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh no! It is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests
And is never shaken. It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although its height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks,
Within its bending sickle’s compass come.
Love alters not with its brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor man ever lov’d.
There you go.
Now, watch your language.
Peter MacRae is a retired Anglican cleric and erstwhile journalist. He lives in New Glasgow.