Marlena Shaw – You

Marlena Shaw’s 1975 album ‘Who Is This Bitch, Anyway?’ sounds defiant, and that’s how she looks in the cover picture as well. But the tracks themselves are surprisingly soft, soulful love songs, albeit with some that celebrate the sexual union and desire in a way that perhaps were pretty bold at the time. But in these songs there’s always gentleness and the idea that sex is a part of a greater feeling of unity with the loved one.

“You” touches on a spiritual dimension. Here love isn’t described with images of the sacred like in some other songs I’ve explored, but rather God is thanked for the existence of this love, this one person who was proved to be steadfast and faithful in a world where it may be hard to trust others.

It’s a feeling I can recognize even as an atheist: when after years of being on your own you find someone special, someone who returns your feelings, there’s a deep sense of gratitude without direction. There’s gratitude toward your lover, of course, for being the way she is, but also something greater, a recognition that we are all somewhat helpless. We try to choose who we are, try to be our best selves, and yet there is always so much that just happens, emotions that aren’t controlled, thoughts that emerge out of the complex interplay between unconscious impulses and sudden encounters. The more aware you are of how you can’t control exactly who you become, the more miraculous it seems that you find someone compatible, someone with similar dreams, the same wish to build a life together. Even if it is what most people want, it feels like this is something unique. Partly it may be the hormones, and partly the realization of how many ways there are to screw things up, and how precious it is to hold on to the same dream, even just for a moment.

And that brings us to the realm of the divine: this feeling that mutual love seems so unlikely in this world that it starts to seem like a miracle. And also the gratitude, discovering something so great that it feels like an enormous gift. We search for an intention, a purpose, and find it in the subtle acts of tenderness, the fleeting sensual pleasures, the overwhelming trust for the present and the future, and sometimes even the past is transformed: the wounds of yesterday no longer matter when you are intimate with someone. But it is not a gift in the sense of something being given away or sacrificed. It is endless sharing, this willingness to understand and be understood, to open up at the risk of being hurt, seeing that the trust was not misplaced, and discovering in that trust our real selves, free to explore the myriad possibilities our feelings and thoughts may take. Such an overwhelming feeling inevitably inspires gratitude without direction, because it doesn’t seem like there’s one choice behind it. We choose to be with each other every moment, through each caress and each conflict. Sometimes there is perhaps one moment that is remembered as more significant than others, when we realized that this is what we want, but love isn’t reduced to that one decision, that one “I do.”

The plurality of moments makes it complex, and the strength of feeling, the unity of desire, makes it simple. You want to thank the universe, or God, your lover, the wind and the woods, for everything seems more meaningful now, everything has led to this moment when you discover yourself and your capability to reach out, to be unselfish, to think of the greater good. You and I, and this cosmos, this order in chaos, the emotion that makes everything right again.