Universal Child

I am obsessed with this song.  Obsessed.  Two small, not-at-all-weird things about me are relevant here: I go through phases where I listen to one song, over and over and over again, and I listen to Christmas carols year-round.

This is Annie Lennox’s Universal Child and the words have haunted my thoughts for weeks.  I adore them.  I drove to and from Connecticut on Sunday and I probably listened to this song at least 30 times.

How many mountains must you face before you learn to climb.
I’m gonna give you what it takes, my universal child.
I’m gonna try to find a way to keep you safe from harm.
I’m gonna be a special place, a shelter from the storm.

Don’t we all relate to the mountains that seem endless, a new one rising up just as soon as we’ve scaled one?  Paul Farmer says it best: beyond mountains there are mountains.  Still, I guess, as Annie Lennox implies, we can at least learn to climb.  And then the way she describes wanting to keep someone safe, to provide a shelter, tugs at my heart.  I’ve written before about my desire for someone to keep the world at bay for me, and I also know the feeling of wanting to protect my children.  Don’t we all have a few people like this in our lives, that make us feel, in a fundamental, unshakeable way, safe?  And lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how our worlds can fracture terrifyingly when one of these shelters ceases to be.

And when I look into your eyes, so innocent and pure…
I see the shadow of the things that you’ve had to endure.
I see the tracks of every tear that ran right down your face.
I see the hurt, I see the pain, I see the human race….

I love these lines too.  I think often of the ways we can see in the faces of others all the people they’ve ever been, and Lennox expresses this beautifully.  I love ‘the shadow of the things that you’ve had to endure” which is so personal, and then the powerful universality of how the “human race” can be seen in one person’s eyes.  Our deeply individual experience carves into each of us, shaping us into the unique contours that make up who we are.  At the same time a profound commonality underlies each of our lives.  There is such beauty in the tension and interplay between these two seemingly opposed and yet inarguably true facts.

So much is familiar here.  With Annie Lennox singing in my head, I return to learning how to climb.  Continuing to look for where I am safe, even as I hear an ever-louder whisper that that search may be futile.  Because of my extremely porous nature, I see every day in other peoples’ eyes all the things they’ve had to endure.  And I celebrate the irrefutable bond of our shared humanity, the ways that certain powerful moments and the feelings they carry – wonder, pain, adoration, longing – can sweep all of us off of our feet.

The hurt, the pain, the human race.

I just wish she spoke about the beauty and grandeur that goes along with it.


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6 Comments

  1. Posted January 25, 2011 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    Beautiful post, Lindsey, I love especially when you say: “I think often of the ways we can see in the faces of others all the people they’ve ever been.” Shows so much awareness and insight. I’ve thought each one is far more than I could know. And how little time I actually spend in the living presence of another; the rest, thinking of that someone, imagining that someone. And how many steps each of us has walked to get to where we are today. Thank you so much!

  2. Posted January 25, 2011 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    Can’t wait to go find the song! I’m a repeat listener too and I can see how this one would call for that…

  3. Posted January 25, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    It is a gorgeous song. I love the notion of that climb, though I find I return again and again to the climb referenced by Neruda in his poem “Emerging.”

    Aren’t many of us always seeking that safe haven, always making that climb?

  4. Posted January 25, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic song. As for winging about the beauty of the human race, I see it here:

    I’m gonna give you what it takes, my universal child.
    I’m gonna try to find a way to keep you safe from harm.
    I’m gonna be a special place, a shelter from the storm.

    To me, those are the words about the beauty of humanity.

  5. Posted January 25, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    I need to listen to the song, but the safe part? I get that. All I am trying to do lately is feel safe.

    And looking for someone to keep the world at bay for me? Always. I am surprised we haven’t worn that song out, between the two of us.

    And you, my friend, you add the beauty all on your own…

    XOXO

  6. Posted January 26, 2011 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    I love Annie Lennox, actually looked for here when I was in Scotland last month. Her voice (swoon). I don’t think I know that song, will have to give it a listen.

    (And yes, I do the same thing, too, listen to the same song again & again, for weeks or months, never tiring of it, but finding truth in it each time.)

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