A Song for the Summer and a Reminder for Life

This year, the summer mood has hit me especially hard. 

Maybe it’s because my job ended at the end of May and my grad program won’t start until the end of September, giving me the longest of summers, and probably more time off than I’m going to see until I’m retired.

Or maybe it’s because I started my summer in Bakersfield, where the temperature was already pushing triple-digit-fahrenheit in early May. The Central Valley does not like to wait before turning up the summer heat.

Or maybe it’s because of all the life transitions that are about to take place in my world. Moving to Oregon, having Deanna planning to come with me, putting a bow on what has been a remarkable two-year gap year of traveling, learning, and nomadism.

Either way, I’ve been especially into the summer spirit this year, and everything that entails. Barbecues and bonfires, swimming pools and otter pops, camping and sleeping outdoors as much as possible, making a second home on the baseball diamond, and packing a bag and taking planes to countries unvisited. Oh, and the World Cup is in full swing! One of my favorites!

It’s been great. The only thing missing was a magical rooftop party for watching the fireworks while grilling up dinner on the Fourth of July. That’s okay, though. Hopefully next year, I can put an end to my little unintentional streak of spending the Fourth of July in other countries. Three out of the last five years is enough!

Oh, and of course there are the summer jams. I have my tried and true favorites– The Fresh Prince’s Summertime just about always does the trick, as well as All Summer– the much under-the-radar collaboration between Vampire Weekend and Best Coast members alongside Kid Cudi. But of course, I’ve been discovering a lot of other songs that have summer running through their veins.

Some off-the-cuff recommendations:

• Handsome Ghost – Blood Stutter

• Vacationer – Good As New

• Pacific Air – Float

And yet, there’s one song in particular that has been a total earworm this summer: 

Edie Brickell and the Gaddabout’s Go Where The Love Is was a featured song on the soundtrack to the film The Way Way Back. Since it usually takes me about a year to actually get around to watching movies I want to see, I finally got to watch it this year. Good movie, and it introduced me to this song.

On surface appearances, it’s undeniably summer jam material. The steady but easygoing drum beat sets the pace for a more chill sound, perfectly massaged by Edie Brickell’s airy vocals. But beyond my inner-music critic, the simple, repeated lyrics became quickly lodged in my brain.

The song came on when I was enjoying a simple, quiet moment to myself in Korea.

Have you ever
Gone astray
Rode weary all out of faith
Have you ever lost your way

Go where the love is
And you won’t be lost again

The simple idea of going “where the Love is” resonated really well with me.

I thought of people I knew, from very different places and at very different ages, who shared the common denominator of what looked like having lived a good life, and it seems like the one thing they’ve shared is the fact that they’ve chased and pursued Love with their lives.

When you sacrifice your own desires for people who matter to you, that’s going where the Love is.

When you jet off into unknown territory for the betterment of other people’s lives, that’s going where the Love is.

When you find something or someone worth your commitment, and you are faithful throughout the highs and the lows, that’s going where the Love is.

As a believer in the simple but profound notion that God is Love, going where the Love seems nearly synonymous with my walk of faith. After all, Love is so much more than a one-time display of niceness. It’s a life pursuit.

Go Where The Love Is has been more than just a summer anthem for me (although it’s definitely getting its fair share of Spotify plays,) it’s also a bit of a thesis statement for this summer, and hopefully life beyond.

We’re at the halfway point of what I’ve dubbed the Summer of Kindness, a much needed season on focusing on Loving each other, and being present, and directing our attention on the things that really matter, knowing how hard life can be for some, and knowing how life is a blend of beauty and hardship. It’s a summer in response to a largely terrible spring that was marked by a couple of unthinkable tragedies. The only positive response towards something too horrific for words could only be found in something too beautiful for words.

But where to start? I made plans to see friends and I booked tickets to places I’ve wanted to go, but how does that make this different from any other summer? When I think about it, I’d say it’s motivation and pursuit.

I remember about two years ago, just after Deanna and I had begun dating, I threw the idea at her in the form of a very hypothetical what if. What if you came with me to the Philippines? Deanna had never been in Asia or in a developing country before. What if you met Lola?

Lola (Filipino for grandma) lived with us on and off throughout my childhood. For a long time she was a member of our household, so much so that we still refer to the second upstairs bedroom as “Lola’s room.” Never mind the fact that Lola hasn’t spent a night there in six or seven years. While she moved around a lot between her nine children, she probably spent the most time in total with my mom. My guess is that it would equal about eight years or so if you put all that time together. She was in the room next to mine through middle school and high school, and I celebrated her 80th and 90th birthdays with her, among countless others.

While she has been blessed with mindblowing longevity, moving to a different place every year wasn’t going to be sustainable, so about five years ago, my family decided to have her move back to the Philippines. Her two oldest daughters live there, and as an added bonus, Filipinos with a middle class income can commonly afford to hire a few domestic helpers around the house. The decision was made.

About five years ago, she moved to the Philippines for good. The last time I got to see her was on 18 January, 2010, in Reseda.

My family is close, so I would often hear how Lola was doing. Over the past five years, she had lost weight, as was to be expected, and her mind began to lose its memory. During a Skype conversation a few years ago, she assuredly told people that I was married.

I would hear about Lola fairly regularly, but I wouldn’t often get to interact with her. By the time Deanna and I had our plane tickets booked, I wondered what our interaction with Lola would be like. I imagine life would become very frustrating once your memory fades.

On our first morning in the Philippines, we went to see Lola. It turns out, she was quite the opposite of frustrated.

We found her sitting in a rocking chair, surrounded by dolls. Having raised ten children, motherhood is still a core component of her identity. Immediately she smiled and leaned forward excitedly to see me, Deanna, and my mom.

And here’s the part I found the most thrilling: even though Lola’s memory of me had faded, her Love hadn’t. She immediately went towards me, knowing that I was somebody important. She treated Deanna like a family member she hadn’t seen in a long time, even though it was the first time the two had met. She hugged us, spoke to us in her English, which was still in tact, and smiled the entire time.

“You are nice. This is nice,” she stated. She looked over at Deanna. “I like you.”

She then proceeded to give us a tour of her house. By that, I mean, she got out of her chair, and her caretaker, Alice rushed to her side to help her walk. We all surrounded her and walked slowly as she took us from the living room to her bedroom. She picked up a plate that had her portrait printed on it and showed it off to Deanna and I, and then she pointed out the rest of her doll collection.

“My children,” she introduced.

She then led us towards the kitchen, and into her backyard. Then back to the living room.

She repeated this and made the same passage three more times. Each time showing us her plate. Each time pointing out the same things.

We then went out to her front porch. She motioned towards her wheelchair. We thought she wanted to sit there, so we began to help her in, but she resisted, and then started helping Deanna in, insisting that she try out the wheelchair. We obliged.

We got to hang out with Lola a few more times that week. We went with her to my Uncle Mars’ birthday, where she stayed up until three in the morning. We took her out to a restaurant where she ate more than some of my cousins. We went with her to a resort to celebrate her own birthday. Although half the cake remained, she hid it in a box and told all of the guests that there was no more cake.

It was a thrill to see Lola so joyful and full of life while we were in the Philippines. At one point, she picked up her plate and several dolls and looked around at her house and then at us and told us plainly, “imagine… that I could have all this?!”

I said goodbye to Lola the night before we left. Alice, who does an incredible job as her caretaker, was tucking her in, and we gave her goodnight kisses as she laid down next to her dolls. I had already twice experienced having to say goodbye to Lola where she was at an age and a distance where it was very uncertain if I would see her again. That uncertainty held true for this goodbye as well, but I also knew not to be surprised if I saw her again soon enough. That would be great if it happens.

Being 96 years old and 7,000 miles away from me means that every moment I get with her must be savored. And while it was happening, I asked myself, am I where the Love is? The answer, was a resounding yes. My grandma lived with us on and off throughout my childhood, maybe for a total of ten years or so.

I realized how much of what I had planned this summer had ended up looking like a pursuit of where the Love is. Going to Korea to spend a solid week of quality time with Jihyun. Going to a refugee camp in Mae Sot to learn about the history and struggles of the Karen people. Taking a 24 hour trip to Isla Vista shortly after the tragedy just to be with some familiar faces. All of that was to the rythym of going where the Love is.

And in the end, I think most of the best decisions I’ve made in life have been made by going where the Love is.

Couch surfing in Isla Vista to further deepen relationships.

Going on the road for LiNK to pursue Love for the North Korean people.

Going to South Africa to Love the Zulu boys.

Moving to Bakersfield to be with Deanna.

Moving to Oregon to start a grad program so my future can consist of putting it all together.

It can be easy to get so over-motivated to live a good story that you’re not sure where to start. But one of the biggest things I’ve had the pleasure of learning is summed up simply and lyrically:

If you go where the Love is, then you won’t be lost again.

Philippe Lazaro2014