Last Saturday some girlfriends and I, most from my new neighborhood, were barreling down a dusty, washboardy gravel road on the Idaho Wine Tour bus when Earth, Wind, and Fire came on the speakers singing The Way of the World.
Despite the violent jostling and loud protestations from the chassis of the bus and the ebullient, rapid fire conversations around me, I was drawn into the song by soaring melody, the harmonies, the horns, and the synthesis of funk and jazz.
These led me to memories – where I was and with whom when I used to hear the song often. I graduated high school the year before The Way of the World came out and it’s part of the fabric of my youth, though I never really thought about its message.
Saturday in the midst of the glee we were feeling about being together and having fun, the Muse broke in saying, “Pay attention to the words. There’s something here for you.”
I did but then he clammed up, so I just scribbled “The Way of the World” in my note book and kept on singing and laughing on the bus with the girls.
“Hearts of fire creates love desire
Take you high and higher to the world you belong
Hearts of fire creates love desire
High and higher to your place on the throne
We come together on this special day
Sing our message loud and clear
Looking back, we’ve touched on sorrowful days
Future past, they disappear
You will find peace of mind
If you look way down in your heart and soul
Don’t hesitate ’cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart, ’cause you’re never, never old
That’s the way of the world
Plant your flower and you grow a pearl
Child is born with a heart of gold
Way of the world makes his heart so cold“
The Way of the World written by Maurice White, et al, Earth, Wind, and Fire, 1975
The Way of the World. I hadn’t listened to it for years. One reviewer wrote, the song is a masterpiece for “the ethereal bossa nova” of the thing. True that, but Saturday on the bus it was more.
We were eleven rowdy women of varying ages and one bemused male bus driver. We told stories and laughed raucously. It was difficult to hear or even think of anything else, but for a few minutes I just sat back and listened to the music. And I wondered, what’s the way of the world?
It was only the next day that I realized the words in the song are more than just words. They’re wisdom. Instructional, useful for restoring perspective and renewing hope. More than just a hit song, it’s been written that it’s “touched with the epic, emerging as the scope of its message of hope and soulful majesty unfold.”
Epic, in English literature is typically a narrative piece, usually related to heroic deeds of unusual courage and unparalleled bravery. Epic is a good description of the way we’ve lived and are living.
The Way of the World is about life as opportunity for ascension, for progression from there to here, no maudlin “you get kicked in the teeth, knocked down, and then you die” lament. The big picture is that everyone of us on the bus has lived an epic life. We’ve all been knocked down, some of us more times than not, But so far we’ve stood back up.
We’ve become intimately familiar with the way of the world, though we may not have stopped to think about it in those terms. We’ve exulted over our plans for the future only to experience cruel disappointment. So far though, each of us is still moving forward, reaching out for the future and hope. Reaching out to each other too.
The way of the world properly lived is aspirational. The way through life is through, not around it. There are no do-overs. It’s about keeping hope passionately alive. Moving ahead to the prize when we might prefer to stop. That’s the way of the world. Our world.
We talked about things we once considered essential components of unrealized and ruined dreams: ending almost 40 years of marriage, losing a partner, dating again, uprooting from states and communities to move across country to a place where we know only a handful of people or no one, and more. None of us are where we thought, where we dreamed and hoped we’d be by now, but for good, for bad, and by golly, here we are. We’ve discovered how to make lemonade from lemons.
The Way of the World was a huge hit when I was just out of high school, full of dreams and longing for a brilliant future. Along with some splendid playing cards, I’ve a failed marriage, a miscarried child, rejection, and a far more ordinary trajectory than I’d imagined. These are what I’ve been dealt, what I’ve picked up, discarded, and some, I still hold in my hand.
Many times the weight of these have threatened to do me in, but through perseverance I’ve learned that dreams – good and bad – aren’t the destination. The journey is the destination.
Life, as the song says, is about pearls, not flowers. Cultivating wisdom, if you will.
A reviewer from the Boston Globe likened the message of the song to this: “The title cut comes into your consciousness the way a cool air-conditioned breeze rushed over your face when you’ve been out in the sticky heat.”
On our hot and sticky Saturday in Southern Idaho, outside a rattling Wine Bus the temperature hovered around 100 degrees in the high desert along Pearl Road. At our last stop, the beautiful 3 Horse Vineyard sat atop a ridge with the Treasure Valley on display in the distance. But inviting though it was to stay and admire the view, every last one of us walked purposefully past the patio for the cool air-conditioned tasting room on the other side. It’s a pretty good metaphor, no?
We’ve been kicked, knocked down, but we got back up and we’ll continue to get back up. We live, love, laugh and drink good wine with old and new friends, celebrating life and resilience. We’re in it for the journey, and if we realize a dream or two along the way, so much the better.
That’s the way of our world.