Can We Go All Out for "All of Me"?
Legend hits all the rights notes as he describes the beauty and mystery of his relationship with his wife. Everything about her, from the natural grace and beauty of her body, to the mystery of her thoughts and emotions, to the expression of her varying moods are a source of profound joy and love in the poet's heart. What really makes this poem shine is the appearance of seeming contraries that are somehow subsumed into the marital relationship in such a way as to bring all things into a harmony that completes the other person in a way they couldn't be on their own. The repeated notions of "craziness" and "losing one's mind" in the love between them is made sense of in the idea of entering into a mystery with one another. What might seem to be utter nonsense -- that two people could actually become one -- is made into the most perfect sense when the mystery of the marital relationship is lived out in a kind of mutual surrender. The chorus expresses the giving of one's all to the other in exchange for the other's all; husband and wife make an exchange of all that they are, body and soul, to the other as an expression of the depths of their love for each other. In this gift of self, all contraries become harmonies. The end of the single life heralds the beginning of the new marital life; the loss of so-called "freedom" results in the winning of the freedom granted by a love built on generous trust in the other. The beloved can, on the one hand, be the "downfall" of the lover in that the beloved demands that all other possibilities for life and love be precluded by this one commitment to love. On the other hand, this "downfall" in the eyes of superficiality and selfishness becomes the "muse" of true love and beauty, true creativity and transcendence. The lover can understand more truly the depths of the human soul through his experience of the free gift of the beloved. The world opens up to new horizons when the souls is opened up to the experience of real love. Therefore, the "distraction" of love becomes the source of "rhythm and blues", the source of all creativity and industry; the distraction of love becomes the impulse to a more focused and purposive existence in the world.
Love is not all hearts and roses, however, and "All of Me" acknowledges that. There are both curves and edges to love; there are moments of softness and moments that are sharp enough to cut. There is both perfection and imperfection in every person, even in the most beloved, which provide both joy and struggle. There will be times of heartache and pain, when one perhaps will have to struggle to see the beauty through the tears. There will be times when the stress and turmoil of life in the world may try to break the lover or beloved; there will be times when trying moods will come over the lover or beloved and they will be challenged to stand by each other and continue to love despite selfishness or ingratitude. Love is not easy. Love is hard, perhaps one of the hardest things anyone is ever called to do in their life. It requires vulnerability and risk; it requires "cards on the table", a willingness to put oneself forward and lay oneself bare before the other. It requires us to give and not count the cost, to give and not hold anything back, to give one's all to the beloved. Love asks everything from us -- yet it is the only things that has the possibility of giving everything back to us a hundred fold. In "All of Me", Legend insists that marital love is a risk worth taking.
"All of Me" offers a challenge to our love-starved but commitment-shy culture. It calls us to be bold and take the risk that comes with the total gift of self. It challenges us to hold nothing back, to work to be our best for another, to work to be truly complementary as men and women. It encourages us to see the beauty in the other, to see the beauty in love, to see the beauty in vulnerability. If I could clarify only one thing in the song, I would insist that it should also remind us that those "perfect imperfections", insofar as they represent character flaws rather than character traits, are parts of us that need to be harmonized through the generosity of putting the good of the other before ourselves, of truly seeking to become the best possible spouse we can be for the other, and of allowing love to change us in all the best ways possible. The challenge to love is precisely a challenge in that it calls us to be more than we could ever have possibly been on our own; it calls us to come out of ourselves and become fully alive by dying to self for the sake of another. This is the ultimate contrary that is harmonized in the mystery of marital unity: through death we find the best life in love.
Thank you, John Legend, for reminding us.
The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!