I grew up with Mario Lanza, the renowned American actor, tenor and opera singer who was known as one of the great romantic performers of his time, because my mother, Georgette, was smitten by his voice.
Sundays in our home were times of a special Sunday dinner and a few hours of watching musicals or my mom’s favorite movies, which often featured Mario Lanza, Errol Flynn or Robert Taylor. Of course, in Maria Lanza’s case, if there were no movies on, there was always our record collection.
There were many nights as a child when I fell asleep with his beautiful voice swelling from the record player or kitchen radio and filling our small home. My mother knew the lyrics to all the songs he sang, but one in particular had found a place in her heart: "Be My Love.”
Sometimes, when I would hear the moving melody of that song, I would sneak out of bed and tiptoe into the hallway to get a glimpse of her singing as she cleaned up after dinner: “Be my love, for no one else can end this yearning, this need that you and you alone create…”
Often, her face bore an entranced expression of being carried away to a different time and place, and I wondered if there were some secret of her heart to which I had never been privileged.
So, my Sunday afternoon marathon became more than a time of enjoyable movies. It became a time of memories and being teary-eyed, and when, during “The Toast of New Orleans,” Mario began singing “Be My Love,” it became a full-blown cry-fest needing half a box of tissues.
Memories are powerful things. They are moments from the past that have the power to transform who we are into who we were meant to be, or they may be pieces of time that serve as obstacles to our wholeness.
When my mother became seriously ill with cancerous lesions on her brain, and had lost her ability to walk or talk or see, and certainly to sing, I bought the tape of “Be My Love,” and a set of headphones and played the song for her every day. I prayed that, in listening, she would be transported once again to a place far away from her pain and impending death.
For a long time, the memory of her suffering and death paralyzed me with grief, and the lyrics of that song were unbearable. Now, as time and prayer have sealed the wounds and made healing possible, those words have taken on a new and deeper meaning in light of a beautiful Lenten meditation: "Nothing can satisfy the deepest longing and desire of the heart, except God alone."
The longing that inevitably overwhelms our hearts and minds when we lose someone we love is often the powerful, though deeply painful, experience that leads us to an understanding that our emptiness, our incompleteness, will only be filled with God.
The certain way for our imperfect human hearts to recover from what often seems like an endless succession of losses is to fall in surrender to the God whose divine heart is always open to take us in and hold us until the pain has subsided.
I may never know, in this earthly life at least, what my mother yearned for, but I know that somewhere deep in her soul she knew a longing for God that is now fulfilled, a need for her Beloved that is no longer a need but a moment to moment communion.
“Something quite unexpected has happened. It came this morning early. For various reasons, not in themselves at all mysterious, my heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks. … Suddenly, at the very moment when, so far, I mourned [her] least, I remembered her best. … It was like the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier.” C. S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed”
Image is of my mom, Georgette Regina Clifford, circa 1945?