STLT#354, We Laugh, We Cry

This is a very long song.

I suppose it has to be, given that it’s about life, death, and the whole schmear. But it is a long song, made longer by accompanists who drag it out – and lordy, there seems to be a compulsion amongst some of our accompanists to draaaaag thiiiiiis ooooone ouuuuuut so that we think we’ve lived a full lifetime from the opening laugh to the final answer.

I suppose that, plus the weird compulsion that turns waltzes into drinking songs, makes Shelley Denham’s song a killer. Oh, plus the fact that there’s a battle in the pews between the rhythm written on the page and the rhythm people want to sing. And to Betsy Jo Anglebranndt’s credit, she tried to enforce a most-certainly-not-a-drinking-song syncopation through her arrangement. Too bad so many folks don’t notice.

And did I mention that it’s a long song?

Now I suspect I have 354 haters reading this right now, but bear with me. Do me a favor and read these lyrics as though they are four separate movements in a concerto:

We laugh, we cry, we live, we die; we dance, we sing our song.
We need to feel there’s something here to which we can belong.
We need to feel the freedom just to have some time alone.
But most of all we need close friends we can call our very own.
And we believe in life, and in the strength of love;
and we have found a need to be together.
We have our hearts to give, we have our thoughts to receive;
and we believe that sharing is an answer.

A child is born among us and we feel a special glow.
We see time’s endless journey as we watch the baby grow.
We thrill to hear imagination freely running wild.
We dedicate our minds and heart to the spirit of this child.
And we believe in life, and in the strength of love;
and we have found a time to be together.
And with the grace of age, we share the wonder of youth,
and we believe that growing is an answer.

Our lives are full of wonder and our time is very brief.
The death of one among us fills us all with pain and grief.
But as we live, so shall we die, and when our lives are done
the memories we shared with friends, they will linger on and on.
And we believe in life, and in the strength of love;
and we have found a place to be together.
We have the right to grow, we have the gift to believe
that peace within our living is an answer.

We seek elusive answers to the questions of this life.
We seek to put an end to all the waste of human strife.
We search for truth, equality, and blessed peace of mind.
And then, we come together here, to make sense of what we find.
And we believe in life, and in the strength of love,
and we have found a joy being together.
And in our search for peace, maybe we’ll finally see:
even to question, truly is an answer.

Taken individually, these verses are quite something. Denham has captured something of the UU experience here that I haven’t found anywhere else.

So what do we do with it? First of all, we do not sing all four verses in one sitting. Because unless you have an accompanist who can both take it at a good tempo and maybe change it up with modulations and alternate accompaniments AND a congregation that can sing it well, it just goes on forever and the answer just might be losing the will to live. In other words, choose wisely. Don’t sing the third verse unless there’s been a death in the congregation, maybe don’t sing the second either unless there’s a new birth, the start of an RE year, or a child dedication. Seriously, verses 1 and 4 are plenty and get us to some of the best lines in our hymnody.

Is this a favorite? Nope. Is this on the Nope list? Nope. Am I glad we have it? Absolutely.

Listen to a recording

4 responses to “STLT#354, We Laugh, We Cry”

  1. #543: Rare typo: verse 2, hearts should be plural

  2. I’m one of the haters, but I like your suggestion as a way to sustain MY will to live while I am singing through gritted teeth, trying to smile, and chanting inwardly “Worship is NOT about you.” Because many people do love it.

    I’m sorry. I want a hymn to change me or challenge me or remind me of something deeply important, or failing that, at least give me a few minutes of listening to remarkably beautiful music. This one just doesn’t do any of that, and its attempt to redeem a bumper sticker slogan with the last line doesn’t work for me (nope, to question is STILL not an answer, though thank you, Shelley, for at least making it no longer THE answer). At least taking out verses 2 and 3 eliminates two of the most cringeworthy lines, “we feel a special glow” (cliche) and “linger on and on” (sounds like a guest who won’t go home, not a beloved memory we want to keep).

    1. This perhaps belongs in Slonimsky’s book, A History of Musical Invective”, along with other misanthropic attacks on beautiful music.

  3. This is actually one of my favorite hymns…although I’ve never been subjected to having to sing or listen to all four verses. I do wish it had a bit more pep when it is sung. There is one version on Youtube that I really appreciate:

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