To Love, but From Afar- a love letter with context
- A love letter written with, and in response to the song “To Love, but from Afar”, my love song to St. Lawrence.
Writing this feels like I’m adding footnotes to a love letter. To be fair, in many ways I am. Now, this is not a Genius breakdown of the lyrical content where I disclose the dream that inspired my word choices or reveal my vision behind a particular metaphor. I’d say it’s more of a briefing of what experiences of the past and present have contributed to my expanding ability to jump onto these various trains of thought, inclining me ever so often to write and sing about them. This song, I suppose, was an attempt to archive this moment in time and try to reason with the peace I had found through music while the semester unfolded remotely. It was me coming to know the maze-like nature of navigating my love for St. Lawrence.
Think of it like this- You’re walking through this maze. You reach several of its pathways with ease. You take (almost) all the right twists and turns and then suddenly, you hit a dead end, which turns into several dead ends. Panic strikes. You thought you had it down, you had a pattern, a plan. Then, in the calamity of panic induced by your loss of bearings in the labyrinth, peace invites itself in and visits for a moment. You center yourself, you are able to maintain a healthy pulse. You learn that love is not linear.
My love letter to you comes with its caveats. Like the maze, my journey through SLU has been an interesting mix of discovery, adventure, twists, turns, and roadblocks. I think of anxious class discussions when I had nothing to say or too much to say, visits to the counseling center when I’d question my place here. I miss my family. I have been disappointed by occasions of institutional apathy. Making this song was largely an exploration into new songwriting styles I wanted to try, but it also produced a moment of reconciliation with the tug of war I have played with a place that has worn me thin, but has built me up and contributed to making me what I am. Experiencing an empty campus made me miss it full a whole lot. My heart goes out to all whose departure from campus felt heavy. It goes out to those whose hearts weighed heavy long before leaving. I think of these past weeks, no longer having access to the comfort of my friends’ proximity which definitely poked a few holes in my psyche. The inability to physically engage and empathize in class took a toll on my desire to learn with the enthusiasm I had previously possessed. And then today struck. Today, I took a big breath walking to ODY and I felt indebted to some higher power for giving me the privilege of breathing in the crisp Canton air. Seeing this project come to fruition has given me the chance to sing this song with one of the most radiant souls I’ve ever met and accompanied by one of the most talented people I know. This time has allowed me to find home in new faces, many of which I hadn’t paid attention to when things were “normal”, when I had grown tired and angry and disappointed in St. Lawrence.
During choir rehearsal, the tenors will often be encouraged to sing louder. It is the tenors who will commonly offer some kind of beautiful contouring to a piece. I have to remind myself the importance of the tenors when I find myself bashfully behaving like one. I can’t blame the choir for the lack of fullness in a song when it is me that is contributing to or even spearheading the void. The trees of the North Country have whispered me comfort, and I’ve often ignored them. I have whispered back and my voice sometimes finds itself getting lost in the wind. This is not to say that all efforts to better St. Lawrence in the name of “love” must be grassroots efforts. Yes, leadership is important, Yes, being loud will often allow you to be heard. But what happens when voices are muted, when the audience chooses not to show up, when the choir makes the executive decision that the tenors weren’t important anyways? The tenors must sing louder, but the choir must foster a space where they feel confident enough to do so.
Love mustn’t be bashful. It requires a special symbiosis. A love without reciprocation can be applauded for its humble, humanitarian nature, but this altruistic gesture can easily be appropriated and toyed with. I think I have learned that loving a place also means offering and receiving some harsh truths about it. I tend to give my lovers the benefit of the doubt.I permit appropriation and it often results in toxic sympathy. St. Lawrence, I miss you, I love you, but sometimes I feel used. Sometimes it feels like you don’t love me back. Sometimes the maze fatigues me, frustrates me by teasing possibility. Sometimes the maze isn’t fun anymore. And you’re working on it, I get it I get it, but it’s only fair I get this off my chest. Yes, I’d be remiss to not acknowledge the silver linings; the friendships, the singing, the learning. I’d also be remiss to not acknowledge the intersections of my privilege and experiences that allow me to reap the joys of these silver linings. I think it’d be fair to posit then, that the act of navigating the love I possess for SLU, is not always a simple and seamless process.
I believe that complexity dresses in the guise of simple. I think it creates the illusion of “simple” so we can digest its calculated chaos without reflux. We give into the allure of its easy consumption. The increase in contemporary discussions surrounding dismantling institutions, abolishing forces framed to maintain the order of civil society, has also opened discussions about how these things came about in the first place, discussions about how these things were constructed and later became widely accepted constructions. Rome was not built in a day, and it also wasn’t built by chance. How, then? Power and privilege come to mind. Trying to better understand how these things are circulated and concentrated can nuance conversations that tend to be “either or” types. Considering fluctuations and distribution of power warrants the possibility of understanding a person or people in their complexity. It also warrants the possibility of re-imagining and re-configuring things that are believed to be set in stone. Complex systems birth complex beings, and now complexity skips the award show and basks in plastic humility. It hides itself in Price Right packaging and so we consume it with economical ease. To love, is not an easy thing to do.The maze continues. (TL; DR… I know)
Why am I saying this? Well, I guess I’m saying it primarily because I watched a documentary about fractal geometry yesterday and now (with my abundant knowledge of mathematics) (that’s a joke) understand the world to be a collision of varying points on a plane. It made me consider the complicatedness of collisions, the steps and actions that make people, places, things the very combinations that they end up being. I’m occasionally asked what a major strength of St. Lawrence is, and I think these past few months have exemplified its malleability. For me, what makes St. Lawrence what it is, is its perpetual metamorphosis. I’d like to think of the growth of SLU and the changes it undergoes as collisions on the plane, producing different pathways and outcomes, most notably and recently inspired by calls to action from the student body. The movement along the plane leads to different shapes, colors, patterns, and consequences. These collisions will sometimes produce unfavorable palettes of consequential fractal combinations. Even so, there are pockets of beaming color here and there blossoming on the hedges of the maze, and I think that’s worth making note of.
To love, or at least what I love, I have learned, can be the very thing that someone else wishes to see disappear.That is something that I constantly need to sticky-note in my mind when engaging in conversations about how to navigate this maze with other people. Our pathways are not tangled the same. To love, but from afar, is an ode to love that can be distant, both physically and sentimentally. An ode to love that blossomed for me amidst a pandemic, introducing me people I have grown so fond of. St. Lawrence I love you, and I want to see you grow. I love you, though sometimes it really feels like I don’t. I love you and so I wrote a song for you, thanking you, and hoping you’ll sing it for me, too.