A song popular in the 1960s, when I was a teenager, deeply affected me; it still does. Part of the music’s impact resulted from the emotional ambiguity it awakened in me. On the one hand, the song extolled a kind of freedom I envied and thought desirable. On the other hand, it disturbed me and engendered a fear of loneliness, abandonment, and loss of love. I have frequently found this double effect, simultaneous attraction, and repulsion in my response to many works of art. The song—“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”—was written and performed by Canadian singer Gale Garnett. The Canadian Songwriters association inducted the song into their Hall of Fame in 2015.
In the lyrics, the singer, a woman, tells a potential lover that she doesn’t believe in long-term relationships. She promises to stay with him for a year but says she will leave after that. Garnett’s lyrics capture the singer’s reasoning:
I will never love you
The cost of love’s too dear
But though I’ll never love you
I’ll stay with you one year.
At the end of the year, the one abandoned, so the singer suggests, will find comfort in being able to look back, happily, on their time together, a period not clouded by love and its attendant commitments, its ecstasies, and agonies.
In the sixties, much of the world was in turmoil. In the US, we endured a series of political assassinations and riots and fought an unpopular war. Happiness was something to be grasped at the moment for, who knew, what tomorrow would bring? Free love—as the term was used in the 60s and 70s—was the ideal, the desideratum.
I believe Garnett’s song’s troubling effect on me was the singer’s premeditated calculus, telling her companion from the beginning that she will leave him in a year, regardless of what that future time might look like, a calculus that appeared not to be aware of, or at least not to be worried about, what was left in its wake.
The more things change, the more they remain the same, as the old saying goes. In my seventies, the world remains just as confused, as fearful as it was in my teens. Where is stability? Where is there something that does not move, does not change?
In the almost half-century since I was a teenager, I have experienced many things that now inform my thinking. It’s not that I sought wisdom. More often, I stumbled on it and accepted its teaching begrudgingly. My head is bloody and bowed.
In 1852, the Reverend David Hay of York published a book: Domestic Servants: Their Interests and Duties. Early in the book, Hay records an idea he believes to be of utmost importance for men and women entering domestic service.
You will have care, annoyance, and trouble; and will doubtless meet with many things trying to your temper and your patience. Nor do I expect that you will ever meet with any situation free from these: you are greatly mistaken if you imagine that you will.David Hay. Domestic servants; their interests and duties (Kindle Locations 33-35). Kindle Edition.
Hay was a wise man. Although he was writing for people about to enter employment as servants, his suggestion is good in many realms. It fits in the world of Garnett’s song. The singer does not wish to enter a relationship that will have care, annoyance, or trouble. She does not want to find herself in situations that will cause her to lose her temper or become impatient. Who does; who wants this? No one.
Yet, the reality is that every significant relationship in life involves these things, but also joy and happiness, satisfaction, and peace. My mistaken thinking in the 1960s was that I would find a situation without care, without wounds. I only had to keep looking. I would find it next year, in the next grade, with another woman, in another job.
The truth is contained in Hay’s statement concerning the possibility of finding a situation free of difficulty: “You are greatly mistaken if you imagine that you will.” The key is to work on oneself, to learn how to handle care, annoyance, persons, or things that may make you angry, impatient, or cause you to lose your temper in the situation in which you find yourself.
It’s easy to say, “I’ll look for another school, another job, another lover.” It is challenging to stay the course, screw your courage to the sticking place, and commit yourself to making the best of where you are. Please understand me; I would never suggest that you remain in an abusive relationship, work for a tyrant, and not try to improve the world in which you live. The caution is against giving up when giving up is way too easy to do.
Click here for a recording of Garnett singing “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.”
All the best,