If you try sometimes, you just might find . . . (Raph_PH / CC BY https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)
This past Saturday night — after we concluded our 10-round Rummikub competition as a defense against the lassitude descending upon our household in Week Five of social distancing — we adjourned to the family room to see what’s on TV. We tuned in to the Global Citizen “Together at Home” telecast. It was one of those productions where music stars — from Stevie Wonder to Taylor Swift, from Paul McCartney to Lizzo, Elton John to Billie Eilish — sing from the isolation of their own homes.
Threaded throughout the “unplugged” performances were emotional thank-yous directed toward health care workers, expressions of our common, global humanity, and repeated reminders that we’re all in this together, closer than ever, despite the restrictive isolation. Most of the songs were touch-the-heart, lift-the-spirit standards. Jimmy Fallon and The Roots performing their “safety dance” with cameos of real-life medical professionals in scrubs and facemasks was a grinning, cheerful highlight.
The two-hour show was an entertaining, feel-good experience. It was a soothing, hopeful balm in contrast to much of the news in recent days — from the devastation of the coronavirus virus itself to the divisive reactions of people in various stages of sadness, empathy and anger.
When Mick Jagger and his bandmates appeared, each in his own screen quadrant, and began playing a long-familiar song, I did one of those dad things my kids have come to expect, and politely, silently tolerate.
“Listen to the chorus,” I said, “and you’ll hear some advice worth carrying with you for a lifetime.”
It was Father Robert Griffin, CSC, ’49 who first lectured me — a child of the ’60s — on the wisdom of that chorus, many years ago. Griff was an older, large priest who became a close friend and constant lunch companion when I came here to work in the late 1970s. He wrote a weekly column for The Observer, a weekly column for Our Sunday Visitor and contributed an essay to pretty much each edition of Notre Dame Magazine when he was alive and working. We talked about writing and literature and life.
He was also something of a spiritual mentor to me, with great patience for my side-trips and distractions. He had had his own “dark nights of the soul,” as he called them, and his sensitivities toward wayward souls was one of the traits that endeared him to me. As well as his ability to see the sacred where others didn’t.
We were talking one day about the cat-and-mouse games that God plays with those seeking him. God’s sometimes silence. His invisibility. The prayers that seem to go unanswered. The absences that make you question his existence.
I was probably complaining about such things, and he said, “Well, it’s like that Rolling Stones’ song. People only focus on that one line. They don’t listen closely enough to the whole chorus.”
“Satisfaction?” I asked. “I can’t get no satisfaction”?
Griff smiled at me, as he often did, amused by my misfires.
“You can’t always get what you want,” he corrected.
Then he filled in the words for me.
You can’t always get what you want.
You can’t always get what you wa-ant.
You can’t always get what you wa-ant.
But if you try sometimes
You just might find
You get what you need.
He told me to stop looking for blaring miracles and pay attention to all the subtler signs. I’d learn to see God’s presence in every day.
So last Saturday night, while Jagger and the Stones sang remotely (the drummer on air drums, keeping time), I sang the chorus to my kids (only once), just to make sure they got it. It is very good advice for living. And is especially appropriate these days of annoyance, inconvenience and — for some of us lucky ones — a little mild deprivation. Life isn’t what we want right now, but our needs are amply met.
There are many other directions to take the meaning of these lyrics, the crossing of want and need, the kind of grist that’s perfect for a lunchtime conversation with a wise and thoughtful friend — from dealing with all those unfulfilled expectations to having faith in God’s handouts, from knowing your own desires may not be what’s best for you to being grateful for the small gifts that life presents. And how, if you pay attention, enough good things come your way to keep you buoyed, and keeping on, like a trail of dropped morsels to mark your way home.
So I thought, too, about how those two hours of musical kindness, human compassion and renewed sense of hope was just what I needed at the time, even though I might want a whole lot more. It made me appreciate, too, the checkout clerk at the grocery store on Sunday who asked how I was doing and told me to stay well when I left.
Sometimes it’s not a lot that we need, but just enough to get us to next time.
Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.