In 1991, even as my life was falling apart after a messy breakup, I was welcomed into a community of singers known as the Common Woman Chorus. Started by a delightful woman named Eleanor Sableski (may she rest in peace), who was also the music director at Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Durham, North Carolina, Common Woman Chorus was (and is) a true celebration of women – from its members to its repertoire.
Feeling battered and uncertain, I joined the group and found instant camaraderie among my fellow singers; despite being 40-50 in number, we did a check in – the first I had experienced. It felt so holy and warm. And in that first year, we sang amazing, life-affirming songs, from “Breaths” to Margie Adam’s “Beautiful Soul” and Holly Near’s “Great Peace March.”
And this song, this short, beautiful, tender chorus by Libby Roderick.
How could anyone ever tell you
you were anything less than beautiful?
How could anyone ever tell you
you were less than whole?
How could anyone fail to notice
that your loving is a miracle?
How deeply you’re connected to my soul.
The first time we sang it, I wept. It was so healing, so comforting, so exactly what I needed to hear in those tender months.
To this day, I use it in services, most notably as the denouement of a piece on wholeness, called Holey, Holy, Wholly. Every time, I invite people to sing it once through to remember how it goes, then sing it to the person next to them, and then finally sing it to themselves. It is a powerful moment.
A simple chorus, easily taught, easily sung.
And oh so powerful in its deep healing. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either; according to Roderick’s website, the song
has been featured on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, highlighted on a CBS 60 Minutes special on teens at risk, written about in newspapers ranging from the New York Times to the Hindustani Times, translated into many languages, reprinted in numerous books (including Hometown by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Kidder), used in movies, and sung at the UN Conference in Beijing by thousands, among many other uses.
How Could Anyone has been used for every conceivable purpose to bring inspiration and affirmation to people struggling with every imaginable challenge and to celebrate the beauty of human beings everywhere: AIDS orphans in Zambia keeping their spirits high, Latina mothers initiating their daughters into adulthood, gay activists affirming their inherent worth, children with disabilities at summer camp honoring their wholeness, Japanese women and girls recovering from eating disorders, men in prison making peace with their pasts – these groups and thousands more have made the song their own and used it to inspire powerful action on behalf of our shared humanity. It has been featured in every format and venue, from videos, films and slide shows to hospitals, prisons, kindergartens, marches, peace gatherings, weddings, funerals and shelters. Princess Diana even wore a t-shirt with How Could Anyone’s lyrics printed on the front to work out at the gym.
This song is such a blessing. I am grateful.