Music has a way of providing context and meaning to what is going on around us. For whatever reason, songwriters always seem to put together the right words in their lyrics that can evoke thoughts or a picture. When we hear a song from our past, we are transplanted back to that time… back to the memories we have of when we used to listen to it over and over again, whether on a 45, an 8-track, a cassette, or CD. I recently experienced that with a song I had not heard for a while.
On Monday, January 28, 1985, 46 of the nation’s greatest music superstars came together to record the quintessential 1980’s hit “We are the World.” As I listened closely to the lyrics, the song resonated differently for me under today’s current climate.
“There comes a time, when we heed a certain call. When the world must come together as one. There are people dying, Oh, and it’s time to lend a hand to life…
The greatest gift of all.”
Those powerful words take on a new meaning today.
“We can’t go on, pretending day-by-day that someone, somewhere will soon make a change. We’re all a part of G-d’s great big family, And the truth, you know, love is all we need.”
The year 2020 has not be the year we thought we would have when we watched the ball drop in Times Square seven months ago. We have faced an existential challenge, along with what is starting to feel like a revolutionary change.
Moreover, all of this has been transpiring right in front of us. I often think about what life must have been like when historical events took place. Did the people experiencing them know that they were witnessing and were a part of something that would be remembered by future generations?
We are in one of those moments right now.
How will people view what happened? Will they even be able to comprehend the context that we are able to see and feel? How will historians document this moment? Will they be able to clearly articulate and capture the nuance of what it was like to be living during this time? Only time will tell.
But… the final version of the story has not been written. We have an opportunity to help put the “spin” on what we hope it will read. However, in order to do it, it will take each one of us to do our part…whatever way we chose to participate. The choice is ours to make.
“We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving. There’s a choice we’re making, we’re saving our own lives. It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me.”
This chorus from the song reminds me of Rabbi Hillel’s famous statement that is found in the Talmud in Pirkei Avot (Sayings of our Fathers).
“If I am not will be for myself, who will be for me. But, if I am only for myself, what am I. And if not now, when.”
It is up to all of us to do what we can to help bring about the change we want to see because if we do not do it, who is to say that someone else will.
Keep this in mind and I would encourage you to crank up the volume and listen closely to the words to the songs you hear. They might sound a bit different and have a different meaning for you now.
Jason Moss is Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.