Today's first reading contains the oldest pop lyrics ever to hit #1 on the U.S. charts. They were adapted by Pete Seeger who added the words by the which the song became known when it was released by The Byrds on October 1,1965: "Turn, Turn, Turn."
How many of us knew, as we drove our Chevies to the levees during that magical autumn that we were singing along with scripture?
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season, (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose under heaven. . . . . .
The Book of Ecclesiastes, part of the Wisdom literature, is concerned with the purpose and value of human life, concerns that remain primary today, particularly as U.S. society steps up its immoral attacks on life at its very beginning in the womb and the life of the ill and elderly approaching the end.
In the book, the Preacher, also known as Qoholeth, wonders if enduring happiness is possible in this life; particularly in a life that is materialistic, overly concerned with possessions, and striving after honors, and power. The Book begins with the charge,
“Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity.”
Among the most malignant of those vanities, a vanity we hold with delusional intensity, is that we can control the future, molding it to conform to our desires. Some of the realities of human life are realities over which we had and have no control.
When, where, and to whom we were born.
The age into which we were born.
The IQ, physical attributes, strengths, and weaknesses with which we were endowed and with which we live.
We had no control over the social conditions into which we were born be they dire poverty, comfortable middle-class, or great wealth.
But . . . .
We do have control over how we choose to live.
We control what we choose to make of our lives,
we determine how we maximize attributes and strengths
while minimizing weaknesses and deficits.
And we have control over whether we admit our dependence on God's grace. Only we determine if we cooperate with that grace or succumb to the ultimate vanity that tells us
I. DO. NOT. NEED. GOD.
Humans are set apart from all lower animals by the knowledge that they will die, a knowledge that does not become fully conscious until somewhere around mid-adolescence. It is then that the fear begins, the irrational fear being acted out in response to covid and the at times insane struggles to stave off death or the signs of aging that begin in middle-age. Botox is one of the saddest metaphors of modern time.
There truly is a time, a season, and an era for everything, be it the entire planet or the beginning of life seen in a newborn infant. The seeming pessimism of Qoheleth is a great comfort to those of us who are now old. It allows us to look back without terror or regret, grateful for the time into which we were born and prepared to face the last reality.
This song hit when I was 16 years-old with a driver's license acquired only a month earlier, It got a lot of airplay particularly on WARM. Not sure my fingers have the strength to press those industrial-sized car radio buttons but it did that lot when there was more than one rock station on.
Turn, Turn, Turn, triggers enough memories to crash the internet were I to try to post them. It was a magical autumn despite the looming consolidation of schools into WVW, taking the SATs for the first time to get ready for the real time, and many other things.
Driving dad's Chrysler New Yorker at times with eight or nine friends packed in. He never found out. Obviously. I lived to write this. The sound of eight adolescent voices singing along with this is something to hear. Not exactly a great something but something.
At 16 the song had some meaning but it is a very different meaning now as I am closer to death than middle age. Then we were in Erikson's fourth stage, now we are deep into the eighth and final stage. The song can at times trigger great joy but also painful memories of friends who have died, relationships that went down the tubes, the loss of a certain naiveté, and questioning idealism.
Vietnam was a reality. Some classmates did not return.
Questions of what will I be? How will I become it? Que será será.
About once every year or two or even three, I sit down with a few beers knowing that when I am done I will be no-sober. I listen to music from the sixties randomly (only of the advantages of iTunes and computers), skipping the ones that don't resonate but perhaps replaying others two or three times. Among the latter are: 'Turn, Turn, Turn', Chad and Jeremy's 'A Summer Song,' 'Downtown', 'California Dreaming' and 'Monday, Monday' the list could go on for most of my play list that is in four digits. I think the event is approaching once it gets a bit more autumnal. It will be a Friday as I have no Mass commitments for Saturday. As the second beer hits there will more than likely be a few tears for those who have died, some laughs, and a chance for deep reflection.
(Attached You Tube Clip as well)
In lieu of a few photos it only makes sense to insert the Byrds recording of their hit.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD