The Greatest Love of All

Posted on 18 Feb 2009 in Breathe, Imagine | 0 comments

The year was 1985. The album? Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston.
I was pretty young in 1985, only about 7 years old. I was precocious and wildly unpopular. I remember public school as an exercise in frustration and anger management. I would speak out in class, so they would place me at the Spanish-speaking table. Thus, I learned to swear in Spanish. Well, I must admit that the swearing wasn’t my intent, but I really liked to chat, and I really believed that I was learning normal conversation.
I read a great deal at that point in my life, mainly because I needed to escape. I was living through the heart of my parents’ divorce, and something inside me truly believed that it was my fault. I acted out, and had a really nasty habit of kicking people in the shins. When it came to school, I was a conundrum, because they would send me to 6th grade reading and social studies classes, but I was in remedial math and failing my handwriting course. I was normally alone during recess and lunch, even though there were certain ‘friends’ from my street. They mostly made a spectacle of me, and I had horrible self-esteem. I was in gymnastics, which offered some comfort, but I always felt that I was following my brother’s greatness. He did everything better than I did.
But there is one story that sparks things off, that really meant something to me. There was a bully in the school. A bigger boy, probably in the 5th or 6th grade. I can’t remember if I had been asked to leave the class because I was too chatty or if I was heading to the portable classrooms of my upper-level classes, but I was out on the asphalt of the playground. It was quiet. And I had to walk past this great, big bully. And I can remember shaking in my tiny trainers. I was a demon on the handball court, with loads of untapped anger and velocity behind my swings, but this was different. Here he was, here I was, and when I looked closer, he was crying. Something inside of me registered – people aren’t supposed to be sad. So I walked over and asked this big scary bully what was wrong. His shoe was untied. And bless him, he was crying because he thought he was stupid for not knowing how to re-tie it. So I sat down next to him and taught him how to tie his shoelace. We did it a few times, to make sure he got it, then untied his other shoe, and we tried it again. I got up, and went wherever I was going, and remember that I never was mocked quite the same way again. Later in life, I would experience the opposite – being nice and being only mocked in return, but this time, it was real, and it was true.
That boy and I shared a brief moment in which God was living in me and perfecting God’s love in me for him. That young boy never bullied me, that’s for sure. I left the school relatively soon after that, and occasionally, I wonder what happened to him, what his name was, and if he ever owned a pair of 12-hole Doc Martens. He seemed the type, after all. But I don’t really need to know, because there was something of the divine in that moment.
I was a lonely child, but I connected. I felt like a reject, but I knew that there was something, someone somewhere that accepted me.
How does any of this relate to the album I listed above?
Bear with me, because Whitney Houston changed my life. How many times, really, in life can you say that? This album really starts the rest of my story. I’m still 7, I’m still unpopular, and I’m wildly educationally imbalanced. I’m still in the midst of family struggles, and my brother and I pretty much can’t get along – even though he was the object of my idol worship. This is just before I switch to private school and just before I learn of church. I was meeting my new and older cousin. My uncle had married a lovely woman with two daughters from a previous marriage, so I was inheriting new cousins through the marriage. The family loved the new addition, and we were having a chance to get to know one another. I remember sitting there with my cousin and brother and we were having a gas of a time, talking about various things that a seven and nine-year-old would find important or interesting. She wanted to know if we had heard of some new music, so she said she would give my brother a cassette if he could sing a bit of a song off it. He did, and I begged and pleaded for the opportunity to do the same. I sang “The Greatest Love of All” and she gave me the cassette.
I still have that cassette sitting in my collection. I never had the heart to give it away. Because that moment, sitting there, I had a moment in which I felt my world open up. When I opened my mouth and let a melody spring forth, I felt something deep inside my heart click – like a switch had been turned on. There was a voice inside me that longed to be heard.
As I grew older, music became more and more a part of my life. I had a nanny who introduced me to a musician, and he introduced me to the happy world of recording with a tape deck. We sang together, and I loved it. I loved the feeling of the music in my soul. I loved the way that the rhythms of various beats were organic and thumped in my head and my heartbeat. I danced and did gymnastic routines to my favorite songs. I began to explore all the ways in which music impacts a person – piano lessons, choirs, gymnastics and dance. I even have a memory of going to a music class in a dark classroom after school, in which we were allowed to play any instrument we liked. I remember that I picked up the drums and loved every bit of it. I loved swaying to the music, not only hearing the beat, but making the beat with my very own body on a random percussive instrument. I also can remember flashing back to this memory when the song came out with the lyrics “I don’t wanna work, I just wanna bang on my drum all day.”
There was a freedom to music in childhood. A sense that every creative expression was part of the larger creative world. There was something basic in it that connected me with every other musician in the world, as if we were each part of a symphony that was heard around the world. I can remember believing in the deepest parts of me that each one of us had a note to play, a song to sing.
I still believe that.
I think the words of the song still run through my head for various reasons, “I found the greatest love of all inside of me.” This love, which comes both from within and without, isn’t just about me. It’s about this bizarre symphony that I find myself in. The symphony that has different rises and falls, and that tells a strange love story. A story of heartbreak, violence, despair, and death, yes. But also a story of love, joy, freedom, and life. Because I love this broken world and all the people in it. This love that began with a song in my heart and a belief that each person was part of a master symphony…this love is the same as the love that I’ve found in my spiritual journey. It’s the same as the love that overflows as I try to see people as created in God’s image and likeness. It’s the same as the love that overwhelms me with beauty and grace when I stand and look at anything Created. And it’s the same love that I discovered years later, when I realized that the love from the Spirit of Pure Love is not death, but resurrection, not fear, but perfect. When I realized that the Purest Love wasn’t just about the cosmos, but about me.
All of a sudden, that little voice from the playground, that said “You are precious, you are accepted, you are not alone,” said
“No one’s really ever seen me face to face, but this loving business, loving one another, it’s important, because it’s the way that I come to make my home in you, make my presence real to you, transform your life and the world into a better place. This love, it’s really important. It’s perfect, really.”