What have you done for love?

That’s a question I’ve been spending time with — since seeing A Chorus Line a few weeks back at Drury Lane in Oak Brook. The musical has been around almost 50 years, but I just caught up to it. Life is like that. Our cultural treasures wait for us.

I never understood the remarkable popularity of this musical. All I knew was that it involved dancers trying to become “one singular sensation” and singing about “what I did for love.” Which sounded ominous. What on Earth could they have done for love, I wondered, that they “can’t regret”? No one says that, I figured, unless they actually did something regrettable and they’re haunted by a sordid past.

Well, I finally found out — it was pursuing their art, specifically dancing. A passionate pursuit that promised neither fame nor fortune. The only thing that kept them going was love.

We did what we had to do
Won’t forget
Can’t regret
What we did for love

I’m glad I didn’t come to this song until this advanced stage of life. I doubt I would have understood it when I was the age of the dancers in the play.

Now I find plenty of wisdom in it.

Kiss today goodbye, the sweetness and the sorrow …
Kiss today goodbye, and point me toward tomorrow …

That is, I think, the proper orientation. It’s fine to remember yesterday. In fact, the character singing the song says, defiantly, that she “won’t forget”. But we shouldn’t be “pointed” toward the past.

We can also savor the present, the sweetness with the sorrow, but the proper course of things is to perpetually kiss today goodbye as we prepare to enter tomorrow. We can’t live in the past alone. We can’t live only in the present. And without past and present we would be rudderless in an aimless future. We live in all three, but only in their proper sequence, and always pointed toward tomorrow.

And we do that by remembering what we did for love — which is also to say, what we had to do.

Love, the song says, is “never gone.” The logical (and cliched) wording, which almost begs to be inserted here would be “Love/Love will never die,” but Edward Kleban, the lyricist, turned a different (and truer) phrase:

Love is never gone
As we travel on
Love’s what we remember

Remembering is of central importance in this song. And inseparable from remembering is regret — or lack thereof.

But I can’t regret what I did for love …

We can, and do, regret much of what happened in the past. Love does, sadly, sometimes end, but not what we did for love — because love is the only significant thing we do in life.

Which is an excellent prescription for coming to terms with the past. We all make mistakes, come up short, mess things up, and fail. Hopefully not too often, but if you truly did it for love, then you can’t regret it.

Which brings us back to the question, “What have you done for love?” Because that, and that alone, successful or unsuccessful, defines our lives. If we did it for love, then we did what we had to do.

Love goes beyond romance — to parenting, grandparenting, friendship, work, the arts, and more. A successful life is filled with what you had to do … for love. You won’t forget it, can’t regret it, even if you don’t become one, singular sensation in the chorus line. And most of us are in the chorus line.

I thought of this following my visit last week with Jack Kernan and Kate, his wife of just four years. What they did for love was get married — when Jack was 94 and Kate was 84. The happy couple just celebrated their fourth anniversary. At 98 and 88 respectively, they are relatively healthy … considering. As Jack noted, “There’s a big difference between 94 and 98.” But they have no regrets. Sure, some of their family members likely second-guessed whether it was the “right thing” to do, but Jack and Kate are both singular sensations and now they’re one singular sensation. The timing was good, a year before the pandemic, so they went through lockdown together.

Sure, they might have suffered a serious downturn, given the vagaries and uncertainties of aging. They still might. They married anyway. And even if it hadn’t turned out so well, they did it for love.

After supper in the Casa San Carlo dining room, we walked back to their room and “chewed the fat” as Jack likes to say. It was wonderful. Jack was my late father’s oldest friend. They met in second grade, which would have been the year FDR was elected president — first term.

As my brother and I took our leave, we promised we’d be back.

Kate said, “Don’t wait too long.”

One never knows, but one thing is sure:

I won’t forget last week, and I’ll never regret knowing Jack and Kate. 

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