By Barb Arland-Fye
While checking e-mail in our family room, I heard a snippet of a song playing on a public TV program about singer-songwriter John Denver that my husband Steve was watching. The song, “Perhaps Love,” is a favorite I hadn’t heard in years and it evoked powerful feelings and memories.
I left my place at the computer to listen to the late singer explain the inspiration for the song. He and his wife, Annie, were going through a divorce at the time and the pain of that experience was palpable. The introspective singer was pondering what love means and his reflection led to a poignant song. He sent the lyrics in a letter to Annie the next day, she recalled in the television documentary.
The song, and the story behind it, impacted me. Subconsciously, I thought about all of my experiences of love that day: hugs with my parents, as I left their home after a quick visit to the Twin Cities; hugs with Steve and our sons, Colin and Patrick; and more hugs with “family” from St. Ann Parish in Long Grove where I attended Mass last Saturday night at the invitation of the Knights of Columbus for dedication of their chapter.
Reflecting on “Perhaps Love,” I thought about another mom I know who, like me, has an adult son with a cognitive disability. Physical ailments had gotten her down that morning, and her son, sensing her discouragement, showered her with hugs and kisses.
I thought about my son, Colin, who is very verbal and yet struggles to communicate his emotions in words. I sense he is grieving the loss of a favorite care provider, but he sometimes grieves in angry outbursts. We talked about his behavior over dinner and reminded him he needs to use his words to communicate how he is feeling. Then he made a comment that seemed unrelated to the loss of his care provider. He told us he’s reading journals he composed about his experiences in elementary school. His younger brother told him to not dwell on the past and to concentrate instead on the present and the future.
But the next morning, with “Perhaps Love” still playing in my mind, I realized that Colin’s re-reading of his journals may be helping him to assuage the sense of loss that John Denver conveyed in his song. Love, as St. Paul tells us, bears many descriptions. Maybe filial love best describes what Colin experiences in special relationships like the one he had with the care provider. Withdrawing to safe memories that can’t be taken away could be his way of coping. “And even if you lose yourself and don’t know what to do, the memory of love will see you through,” John Denver sings plaintively.
I’ve often thought that when I — and all other parents of children with special needs — get to heaven we’ll finally know what they’ve been trying to tell us. But maybe God is slowly revealing the answer to me, even in the snippet of a song.
John Denver wrote a beautiful song exploring the meaning of love. I’d like to hear your thoughts about what love means to you. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, a fax to (563) 323-6612 or a letter to The Catholic Messenger, P.O. Box 460, Davenport, Iowa, 52805. We’ll publish as many responses as we can.