Don’t Worry! Be Happy! Or Live for Today. Or ...

Do you remember that Grass Roots’ song, “Let’s Live For Today?” I don’t remember exactly when it came out (sounds so '60s-ish), but I do remember hearing it some years ago – and now played on my Pandora station frequently. I also remember disapproving of its lyrics. Its basic message is that all we need is each other. No need to complicate our lives with plans, ambitions, chasing after the almighty dollar, being productive. Singing, “I’m glad that we are different, we’ve better things to do. May others plan their future, I’m busy loving you. ... Sha-la-la-la, live for today (Hey, hey, hey) ... and so on. (Written by Michael Julien, Norman David Shapiro, Mogol Giullo Rapetti; Copyright AZLyrics)

Well, really. Irresponsible, yes? I mean come on, get real! You have to plan for the future, you have to contribute something to the professional world you inhabit – make a mark, you know? It may be that all we need is love, but that won’t put bacon on the table or pay the rent!

But then ... times change. And we change. And our perspectives shift as we grow in years and wisdom. And reflecting maybe my change of heart and perspective, I ran across an op-ed piece by Jennifer Boylan in the New York Times a couple of weeks back (September 5, 2021). It was titled, “I Never Knew How Golden My Summers Were” (see lead photo and second photo below), and it was basically a nostalgic piece about small, past moments that in retrospect were precious. Boylan recalls a recent hearing of Christine Lavin’s song, “The Best Summer” – the summer of 1993. “Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was the best summer, the best summer. Hydrangeas and wind chimes, the best summer, the best summer. ...Now and then a gentle storm that cleared the air, cooled things down.”

Boylan was curious about Lavin’s lyrics and emailed her about the song. As it turns out, Lavin was with a lover that summer on Martha’s Vineyard. In response to Boylan, Lavin said she didn’t know back then that that would be the best summer of her life. Boylan runs through a few of her own best moments, lodged in her memory – including when she was 52 – “the July I ate vanilla ice cream cones with my mother, in the last year of her life. It was so hot that day that the ice cream melted through our fingers just about as fast as we could lick it.” And she ends the piece with this thought that I found so arresting:

Like Ms. Lavin, I did not really understand how golden those summers were at the time. But then, it isn’t a whole summer that becomes epic in retrospect; it’s just the small moments, each one as lovely, and humble, as a shell washed up on a beach and then placed, as a memento, on a windowsill. [Emphasis added]

In the autumn ahead and years to come, I hope that in some small way I can help to fight back again the gathering fire of this world. If I have any strength in me, some of it will surely come from the gift of all these summer moments, even the ones I did not recognize as precious while they were happening.

As I was thinking about this lovely piece by Boylan, for some reason Neil Diamond’s song “If You Know What I Mean” came to mind. Taking the liberty to print a few lines from that piece, here goes:

And here's to the songs we used to sing
And here's to the times we used to know
It's hard to hold them in our arms again
But hard to let them go
Do you hear it, babe
Do you hear it, babe

It was another time
It was another place
Do you remember it, babe

And the radio played like a carnival tune
As we lay in our bed in the other room
When we gave it away
For the sake of a dream in a penny arcade
If you know what I mean
If you know what I mean
If you know what I mean
If you know what I mean

(Written by Neil Diamond, Copyright 2000-2021 AZLyrics)

Every time that song is played, I think “pure nostalgia” and it brings back memories of my own. Not of a penny arcade but of the fair that would come to my hometown this time of year, of the summers of cotton candy, of my own precious moments scattered across my own life.

So getting back to The Grass Roots’ song, I now think there is deep wisdom in those lyrics. After all, as I’ve observed in other blogs of mine, and is so true in all of our lives, we don’t even know what tomorrow will bring. As our days and years pass, I think most of us realize that truth – and know it in our very bones – as when I hear, “We were never meant to worry/The way that people do. And I don’t need to hurry/As long as I’m with you./We’ll take the most from living/Have pleasure while we can ... And don’t worry 'bout tomorrow, ... Live for today.”

I’m not arguing here for no planning or hopes or expectations about tomorrow – that this pandemic will pass, that the fires in the West will be contained, that the flooding and all the rest brought on, in large part, by climate change – will somehow be controlled. And yes, our hope that those precious moments – lovely and humble – will continue to grace our lives until we draw our last breaths.

“If you know what I mean. If you know what I mean, babe.”

Yes indeed!

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Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.
I am a clinical psychologist, Episcopal priest and author, and I currently serve as Priest Associate at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.