The other day I stumbled on The Beatles’ Abbey Road medley “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.” Or, more accurately, the mix pushed its way into my ears as I unearthed a long forgotten playlist of Beatles and Doors favorites while I did some weed-whacking in my yard (those ear buds tucked up under the hearing-protection muffs can make a task go by a lot faster, as long as you don’t try to play “air guitar” with the weed whacker–that could get dangerous, to you and your shrubbery).
Anyway, the closing line of this medley, which is also the closing line (if you ignore the unlisted “Her Majesty” P.S.) of Abbey Road–the last Beatles album recorded and, according to many, their best (my vote for this auspicious designation would be Sgt. Pepper’s)–these closing verses are Paul McCartney’s oft-quoted lyrics: And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
And that sentence stuck in my mind through the rest of the Beatles/Doors mix, the completion of my weed-whacking for that day, and on through the weekend and beyond. It’s hardly the first time I’d reflected on the verse. I’d practically wore out the vinyl of the album when it was first released, playing it on my parents’ console system with the turntable and the speakers built into the furniture-grade cabinet in the corner of the living room, blasting out the songs on Saturday nights when everyone else in the family had something better to do. And I continued to reflect on the verse when it found its way into every other (or so it seemed) high-school yearbook picture epigraph, though these latter reflections were more in derision than awe as my classmates seemed to be yearning for the bygone flower-child era of peace and love (that was rarely if ever peaceful and loving).
Because that’s the thing about this verse–even now, forty-five years after its initial release, it seems to define a moment in time and an ethic when one was called to reflect upon and honor a cosmic balance: that love received equaled love given. The implications of such a balance are obvious: the more love you “make,” the more love you “take.” And whether referring to sexual love (the jet fuel of the late sixties social movement) or romantic love (the driving energy behind most rock lyrics–indeed behind most lyrics of any sort) or platonic love (a mainstay of philosophers) or agape love (what Christians mean by “love thy neighbor”), more love is good. Isn’t it?
But in all my previous reflections on this ponderous sentence and the ethic (whether sincere or ironic) underpinning it, I always focused on the cosmic scale aspect–does love given always, or ever, equal love received? But in this narrow focus I missed entirely a larger question–can love be either created (“make”) or consumed (“take”)?
And it seems to me now, forty-five years older (if not wiser–indeed, perhaps dumber, in a good way I hope) than that kid dropping the vinyl disc on his parents’ living-room record player, that love cannot be created or destroyed, that there is a constant and infinite supply available to us at all times, in this realm and beyond, and that our only challenge if we wish to partake of this infinite resource is to find it in our own lives and hearts, and share it once found. To use McCartney’s language, the finding could be considered “taking” and the sharing could be considered “making.” But it’s dangerously narcissistic and self-aggrandizing to think that one could either create or consume something as precious and elemental as love. The opposite approach would be more appropriate and, in my experience, productive–to humble oneself before the beauty of love, and in that humility, find the blessing, or be found by it. And once found, rejoice in the gift by sharing it.
This is, in essence, the narrative movement of Angels Unawares. At the start of the novel, all the characters are lost. They’ve been humbled by life–by their choices, their mistakes, their pride, their unfulfilled longing. And in such a state of emptiness and emptying, they stumble on love, or are found by it. And once found, they share–love and themselves, one and the same now.