A few nights ago, I was driving home from helping take care of someone suffering from dementia, worried about the wild mixture of fear, anger, distance, and vulnerability I had just witnessed, when “Simple Gifts” came on Kansas Public Radio, this version performed by the Turtle Creek Chorale. The blend of voices, and the words I had fallen in love with decades before wrapped around me like a cashmere scarf:
‘Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free,
’tis the gift to come down
where we ought to be,
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained
to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
to turn, turn, will be our delight
till by turning, turning we come round right.
As someone who often feels riddled by complexity, I’ve found myself gravitating toward songs about simplicity for years, but what speaks to me most in this one is the “turning, turning” to come round right, often because we don’t know how much turning — and changing for that matter — we have to do to snap into place. I’m also drawn to the bowing and bending despite my propensity (as well as most human’ propensity) to hold onto and control. Coming down to where she should be speaks to the ground that holds us and holds us up, humility and release, the ease and challenge of returning to the source. This translates for me into expanding our peripheral vision to see an expanded world, and softening our gaze to look with greater compassion.
Life does this song’s bidding all the time: it spins us around, knocks us over, breaks our will, and brings us home, one way or another. Between this Thanksgiving and the last, I can land on many moments my being sung “Simple Gifts,” whether it was the death of my dear friend Jerry last December or coming down with yet another sinus infection last week. Life is rarely the way I think it is, and when I’m tilted out of such thinking, I try to remember that while not all gifts are simple, our gratitude, acceptance, and recognition of life being life can turn and turn us until we come round right.