Simple Gifts

By kate on January 20th, 2009

‘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 a place just right
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

‘Tis the gift to be gentle, ’tis the gift to be fair
‘Tis the gift to wake and breathe the morning air
And everyday to walk in the path we choose
‘Tis the gift that we pray we may ne’er come to lose

‘Tis the gift to be loving, ’tis the best gift of all
Like a quiet rain, it blesses where it falls
And if we have the gift we will truly believe
‘Tis better to give than it is to receive

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.

Today, at the inauguration ceremony of President Obama, a quartet of musical greats played a song specially arranged for the occasion (by John Williams) called Air and Simple Gifts.

As moved as I was by the swearing in and Obama’s speech, hearing this music moved me the most. Simple Gifts is a traditional Shaker song that my dad used to sing to me. He learned it during his childhood in Pennsylvania. I’m not much of a singer, but I chose that song to be the one I’d sing to Ruby as a lullaby. Not only is it a traditional family song, but the plain, simple lyrics perfectly illustrate the values I want to pass on to my child.

When the first notes of Simple Gifts rang out from Anthony McGill’s clarinet, I was overwhelmed with joy. Joy that our new president’s team had selected this humble American folk tune to share before assuming a mantle of such power and prestige. With the whole world watching, the quartet could have played any of the hundreds (thousands?) of songs celebrating pomp, greatness, victory, or heroism. Instead, we were offered a beautiful tune that reminds us what is really important in life: the simple gifts of gratitude, fairness, gentleness, love, and humility.

Filed under: about, current events, family, life
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