I can see why Ray Charles's CD "Genius Loves Company" warranted eight Grammy awards Sunday night. Despite the boldness of its title, the CD is a remarkable example of unselfishness. It features the artists he most admired, supporting their work in a way that confirms their shared place in musical history.
Ray Charles's passion for performance penetrated his career, but the last year of his life found him in his own recording studio. He invited several of his favorite performers to record some of their hit songs with him. Track after track shows his admiration for their gifts, as he tempers his own style to complement theirs. I can't imagine what it was like for 20- something Norah Jones to record with this master of music mentors.
Like the recent film about Ray Charles's life, the CD speaks some powerful truth about the freedom to continue using one's talents, about victory over the things that would destroy the talent, and about the people who felt his love and admiration.
I was married to a generous-spirited man who also gravitated to people whose talents he could support. His passing left many of us stronger to cope with the loss because his commitment to our lifework made us all the more willing to take our work seriously - the carpenter and riflemaker who became a recognized harpsichord builder, the students who became compassionate lawyers, the fellow musicians who broke patterns of divorce to find better soul mates because of his counsel and example. As his wife, learning from his steadfast, calm devotion, I moved from immature willful impetuosity to womanhood with the rhythm of homemaking, mothering, healing, and writing.
There's a Bible verse that is a promise for those of us in our second half century. It is God's voice saying: "With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation." In the preceding verse God says: "He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him" (Ps. 91:15, 16).
To be honored of God is to be acknowledged as worthy of life. And to be given life is to be given renewal, enthusiasm, and fresh perspectives, with days full of expectancy. So much of that daily celebration of life has to do with finding ever new horizons of love, ways to celebrate others, to serve and support them.
To admit that we have been loved enough to love, is the way we honor God as the source of all life and love.
Acknowledging that life has an infinite source prepares us for the infinite love that goes with that life. It is through our God-given talents that we are able to love. That's why talents are worthy of our devotion, and it's why honoring the work of others only enriches us for greater opportunities.
I was talking to someone on the train and asked this 30-year-old how long he expected to work. He said he couldn't imagine not working, and said he expected to have successive careers, each a couple of decades in length. I wondered aloud with him if he could imagine a society where the ethic of retirement was no longer prevalent. He said, "Oh, you are talking about people finding work they love to do. That makes sense to me. If I find something I love to do, I know I'll stay with it."
We talked about the importance of people finding work that refreshes and inspires them so that work isn't a drain on their thought and health. I told him that the key for me is making sure my motivation in using my talents is to serve and bless others. It is the unselfish motivation that is the most satisfying and invigorating.
We all need to face down the fear that advancing age brings decrepitude.
The founder of this newspaper with a global mission and of the Church that publishes it, Mary Baker Eddy, lived a productive, generous life into her late 80s. She wrote: "We should measure our love for God by our love for man" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," page 12), and "Goodness and benevolence never tire. They maintain themselves and others and never stop from exhaustion. He who is afraid of being too generous has lost the power of being magnanimous. The best man or woman is the most unselfed" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," page 165).
May we exercise our God-given capacity to think beyond ourselves and acknowledge the strength that comes with it.