There is a song which has been following me lately. Everywhere I go it is playing – at the coffee shop, the radio throughout the day – and it is a beautiful song. I stopped to notice it recently, and the lyrics caught my eye even more than the melody or the video clip seen by more than 400 million times on Youtube.
When my hair’s all but gone and my memory fades
And the crowds don’t remember my name
When my hands don’t play the strings the same way, mm
I know you will still love me the same
‘Cause honey your soul can never grow old, it’s evergreen
Baby your smile’s forever in my mind and memory
I like this part, especially. The chorus is intense like a hit song should be: “Take me into your loving arms, kiss me under the light a thousand stars.” But the long horizon is what struck me most: a person promising love “till we’re 70”; someone cherising evergreen commitment even when “your looks don’t work like they used to before [and] my hair’s all but gone and my memory fades”.
It’s this long horizon that set Thinking Out Loud apart from other nice songs – to me and I guess to many others. For Ed Sheeran captures a crucial, but often neglected aspect of passionate encounter: the promise of future love. The dream of a lasting uning. The vows of constancy. The prospect of life-long marriage. He captures the intense moment – “place your head on my beating heart” – but also old age, the humdrum of ordinary days, past fame and unskilled hands, and promises sustained love also then.
This is the central aspect of falling in love, in my view. Encounter leads to union. Passion begets marriage. A touch of hands births intertwined lives. Intense feelings are part of it, of course, but we really fall in love when we can’t but commit to spend the rest of our lives loving the other person. Passion is the great conqueror of selfishness, the engine of self-donation. C. S. Lewis puts it best:
As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy. The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion’s own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do… ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.
This perpective brings good common sense to our confused social scene today. In an age unsure of the possibility of real love in the midst of so much casual encounters, photoshoped pictures, virtual relationships, texting and sexting, and in an age fighting about what constitutes a marriage, this insight doesn’t illuminate the whole picture but portrays a key mechanism: to fall in love is to trumpet and promise life-long marriage before the world.
In song … and with all the other gestures you and I undertake.
Let me go get some flowers.