Look, I’m going to be straight with you: So far, 2017 hasn’t been much better than 2016 was.
There have been a number of decisions made by the executive branch of the U.S. government that are troublesome. And the job I had lined up has been slow in getting me details on starting. Socially, politically and fiscally, 2017 has already been a challenge. That can certainly color one’s perspective, right?
I don’t mean to complain. Many folks have it far, far worse. And I think about those poor souls, too. We have many challenges coming our way. There will be a lot of bumps, bruises and tears coming. Many sleepless nights. We can hope for the best, but it’d be wise to follow the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.
Preparation can mean vigilance. It can mean protest. It can mean education. It can mean … well, anything. Preparation can vary from person to person, interest to interest, cause to cause.
It also can mean looking for bright sides. It can mean finding the things in life that make the struggles worthwhile.
I started off the year setting daily goals for myself, simple tasks to try to help make 2017 better than 2016 had been. I was refreshed by accomplishing those minor challenges. Setting goals for yourself and giving yourself encouraging pep talks from time to time really can help you move beyond slumps.
You can’t control everything. In fact, you’re lucky if you can control even a few things in your daily routine. Responsibility only goes so far. While I strongly encourage people to be as self-sufficient and independent as reasonably possible, everyone needs a hand from time to time. We get by with a little help from our friends and family. And sometimes you’re just tired. You need a rest. You need to be able to drop the weights from around your shoulders, whether it’s for a few hours or a few days or whatever.
I sometimes find myself doing little boosters for myself. They may not seem like boosters from the onset, but hang with me here for a moment. We’ll get to why I think they help, and why I consider them boosters.
Sometimes I remind myself that I’m just a small part of a very, very large jigsaw puzzle. As small as the world can be (and it’ll only get smaller), the world is so much bigger than any one of us. Then look to the sky … consider space. Consider the planets. The nebulae. All those star systems.
Consider the past, all that history that has gone before us. All the big names, the kings, the prophets, the presidents, the healers, the philosophers and artists and villains.
Sometimes I take a deep breath and look at the buildings around me, and I tell myself that they’ll still stand long after I’m gone. I look at mountains, at trees. I smell the breeze. I tell myself that even if I was gone tomorrow, the world will continue turning. Life goes on. People move forward.
How is this comforting? How isn’t it depressing? Because sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves to do this and that, to live up to expectations, we scramble to pay bills, to be on time for appointments, to be right where we promised to be to meet people we promised to meet to do things we promised to do. And what does it matter, a month from now? A decade? A generation? A lifetime?
Sometimes it’s just nice to know that not EVERYTHING hinges on you. At least for me, it gives me the space to breathe. It gives me the allowance to stumble. It lets me be human. It helps me laugh off irritations. It helps me take a moment to think, to pray, and to lay down the burdens that I pile on myself.
This is not the same as giving up, or giving up on ego, or anything psychologically or physically profound. But it’s a way to frame things in “big picture vs. small picture” scales. It can be amazing how quickly small things pile up and then we feel so overwhelmed and almost frozen, unable to act. So when I think about pyramids and planets and Abraham Lincoln or anything similarly epic, I’m contented to know that I am just a very, very minor cog in a machine so vast as to have built-in redundancies.
I think, in a way, that Freddie Mercury felt similarly, from time to time. Take “The Miracle,” for example.
“The Miracle” was Queen’s 13th studio album, but I want to focus on the song with the same title rather than the entire record.
There are many music fans who probably feel that Queen was a spent force after “News of the World” or “Jazz” or “The Game” or … well, insert any album you’d like. You get the point. It seems that folks find it easier to dismiss Queen later on in their career, and this is a shame. Every Queen album featuring Freddie Mercury has songs worth studying and enjoying, and “The Miracle” is no exception.
The title track is anthemic, but it’s a relatively simple song compared with most of Queen’s great anthems. It isn’t as catchy as, say, “We Will Rock You,” nor as operatic as “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It sure isn’t as dynamic as “Don’t Stop Me Now” (my favorite Queen song), and it probably didn’t inspire millions of folks to start a band. But there’s more to a song’s success than those qualities.
I see “The Miracle” as a song that identifies our small part in the world around us, a song that glorifies the majesty of the world and nature, and of man’s innovation and of incredible human beings who came before us. It is aware of the divine, of a power beyond ours, glorifying God. It’s a recognition of what this world offers (or has offered), and doesn’t rely so much on “look how great I am” strutting.
Take a moment, please, and read the lyrics:
“Every drop of rain that falls in Sahara Desert says it all,
it’s a miracle.
All God’s creations great and small, the Golden Gate and the Taj Mahal,
that’s a miracle.
Test-tube babies being born, mothers, fathers dead and gone,
it’s a miracle.
We’re having a miracle on Earth, Mother Nature does it all for us.
The wonders of this world go on, the hanging Gardens of Babylon,
Captain Cook and Cain and Abel, Jimi Hendrix to the Tower of Babel,
it’s a miracle, it’s a miracle, it’s a miracle, it’s a miracle.
The one thing we’re all waiting for is peace on earth — an end to war.
It’s a miracle we need — the miracle, the miracle we’re all waiting for today.
If every leaf on every tree could tell a story that would be a miracle.
If every child on every street had clothes to wear and food to eat,
that’s a miracle,
If all God’s people could be free to live in perfect harmony,
it’s a miracle.
We’re having a miracle on earth, Mother Nature does it all for us.
Open hearts and surgery, Sunday mornings with a cup of tea,
super powers always fighting, but Mona Lisa just keeps on smiling,
it’s a miracle, it’s a miracle, it’s a miracle.
The one thing we’re all waiting for is peace on earth and an end to war,
it’s a miracle we need, the miracle, the miracle:
Peace on earth and end to war today.
That time will come one day, you’ll see, when we can all be friends.”
Sure, there’s a lot of peace, love and freedom in these lyrics, making it an idealistic hymn that may not seem terribly realistic considering human nature and the many frailties of national and global leadership, but these are nice notions. These are feelings and hopes we (at least many of us) share, along with a desire for a better world for our children.
Consider all these miracles listed in the song, from the Taj Mahal to Jimi Hendrix to open-heart surgery. We’ll always need and look for more miracles, whether they take the form of creations or people or technological advancement. But the biggest one will be whatever gives us a real peace and a real equality that allows us to fashion this planet into an Eden, a heaven on earth.
When Queen fashioned this song, Freddie Mercury had already been diagnosed with AIDS. At this point, AIDS was a death sentence. Certainly, there were medications and health regimens developed to help combat the illness and stave off the worst symptoms, buying time. But there certainly wasn’t any cure (there still isn’t, though medical advances have certainly helped first-world AIDS patients live lives far more comfortably and without the sands of time draining quite so quickly), and Freddie knew his time left on the planet was dwindling.
Rather than turn to despair, or anger, and rather than becoming self-absorbed and allowing fear to render him incapable of work, Freddie turned to fashioning powerful music. He looked at the world around him and saw so much beauty (“The Miracle” is one example, as is “A Winter’s Tale” from the posthumous “Made in Heaven” album).
I find that inspiring.
Freddie had so much more to give. He had so much to lose.
He’d watched his career, and Queen’s popularity arc, go through ups and downs, and the band always seemed to find a way to triumph, to reclaim glory (take Live Aid for example). He was so much bigger than life, almost a force of nature in his own right. And Queen, with Brian May on guitar, Roger Taylor on drums and John Deacon on bass, helped refashion the band and keep it vital, powerful and incredible.
Think how hard it is for us to transcend ourselves with just daily frustrations. Bills. Political leaders. Normal aches and pains. Coworkers. Laundry. Pet messes. Dirty dishes. Snow.
At least for me, context helps me put my struggles and despair in check. The frustrations are still there, but I’m able to put it in perspective. Think of the pyramids and all the sweat, blood and death that went into them. The people who built them are nameless and long dead. Their hopes and fears are long forgotten. The monuments remain.
Life goes on. The world turns. Our children inherit the world. New advances in medicine and technology lead to improvements for many (someday, perhaps everyone will benefit from them, regardless of race, nationality and wealth).
This world, this life, this ball of confusion, it’s really beautiful. It’s all so incredible. It’s a miracle, really.
When I first heard “The Miracle,” it was on the first Queen CD I owned, a Christmas gift called “Classic Queen.” The version of the song on that CD is a unique edit, and it’s probably my favorite version of the song. But no matter the form, the song is a reminder of all the wonders of the world that came before, and all the wonders that are yet to come.
It’s a jewel of a song, no more or less beautiful for its context regarding Freddie’s AIDS diagnosis. But one should at least be able to draw from Freddie’s example: Recognize the beauty, revel in the majesty, of what is around us and what came before us. Our lives are finite, we should make the most of them, make the best of them.
Our daily struggles won’t go away. Our political, social and financial concerns will always await us. Buildings will be blown up, monuments will be built. Vessels will travel the stars. Wars will be waged. Resources will be strained, and alliances will be forged. Art will be created. People will fall in love. There is good and bad in everyone and in everything. The choice is ours: What shall we focus on?
Me? I’m going to listen to “The Miracle” again. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be friends? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if no children starved? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world of peace? Yes, “The Miracle” may just be a song and it may not cure anything, but it makes me feel better.
And these days, sometimes that’s the best you can ask for. If you find anything that helps you get through the day and make it to the next day, even if it’s “just” a song, hold on to it. Savor it. Take strength from it.
Take your miracles where you can find them.