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March 6, 2014

MAY: At last

— Over the last several weeks, we have looked at love songs. Silly. Reflective. Hopeful. Dreamy. They are songs that remind us of the power and importance of love in our world. Love tells the story of our lives.

And we are captivated by the stories that love tells. We like the romantic stories of first love, the exploit stories of adventure and intrigue, and even the warm and fuzzy stories of a growing and committed love.

We read stories of the love between a beauty and a beast, an admirer and an alien, and the love triangle between a girl and her werewolf and her vampire.

Television shows are spun, movies are woven around the idea of a passionate, negative — almost hateful — relationship that through time and circumstances evolves into true love. From Belle and the Beast to Han Solo and Princess Leia to Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice,” we long to celebrate the love and inspiration of the romance that blossomed from two people who originally couldn’t stand each other.

We relate to stories and songs about love that doesn’t come easy because that is often how it is in our own lives.

The father and the daughter who struggled and fought during the growing up years to finally come to rest at a place of respect and support. The husband and wife desperately try to make a second marriage work while blending four children, two pets and financial difficulties. The awkward, lanky teen spends the growing up years on an emotional roller coaster, always unsure and always searching. The elderly parent looks hauntingly in the eyes of a daughter who is barely remembered.

We understand that love takes time and intense work. We accept that the road to love is peppered with detours, potholes and orange barrels. Yet still, we long for “happily ever after.” We want to be able to climb to the rugged mountaintop and shout, “At last! My love has come along! My lonely days are over — and life is like a song.”

The love song, “At Last,” was written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren in 1941 for the movie musical “Orchestra Wives.” It was performed in the film and released on record by Glenn Miller and his orchestra. The song reached No. 9 on the Billboard pop charts in 1942, stayed there for nine weeks, and eventually became a standard.

It is literally impossible to know how many people have recorded covers of the song. It was so often used as an audition piece for the television show, “American Idol,” that Simon Cowell proclaimed he never wanted to hear it again.

“I’ve become allergic to it,” he joked. Popular artists who have recorded the song include Cyndi Lauper, Celine Dion, Gladys Knight, Joan Osborne, Christina Aguilera and Beyonce’.

But the version that most associate with the song is the one by Etta James, recorded in 1961. She was known as a gospel prodigy by age 5, providing the lead vocal for her church choir and singing on the radio. By age 12, she was belting out the blues for famed bandleader Johnny Otis. In 1993, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Though plagued by addictions to heroin and other hard drugs, Etta seemed to slide into a safe, productive world when she opened her mouth to sing. For the moments of the song, she found peace and safety, security and love.

As she would croon in her signature song, “I found a dream that I could speak to, a dream that I can call my own. I found a thrill to press my cheek to, a thrill that I have never known.”

In her singing, she found purpose and fulfillment.

In an interview after receiving a Grammy, James revealed, “My mother always told me, even if a song has been done a thousand times, you can still bring something of your own to it. I’d like to think that I did that.”

Perhaps we will learn the same thing about love and about life. At last.

— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com

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