nanci-and-steve-weddingToday, Nance and I are married 31 years. Hmm…. our children are now all older than we were when we began this journey.  And time has done what time does; it has, and will continue to move us along in its flow, slowly widening the scope of our experience until we one day spill into the ocean to begin a whole other journey.

And it’s been good…  so very good.

To commemorate this day, I’ve posted below seven songs that I’ve written over the years about our life together:

1. Alone Tonight (1983)

Nance and I were married Aug 20th 1982.  At the time, I was playing in a folk trio called Elias, Schritt and Bell. We were just releasing our first record which,  with an unfortunate bit of timing,  just happened to come out a month after our wedding day.  What this meant is that I had to leave my new bride and hit the road with my band mates.  I was miserable for the whole of that six week tour of nightclubs and university lounges strung on a long line between Kenora and Montreal.   Our last gig before returning home was in Windsor, Ontario. By this point I was so missing Nance that I convinced my band mates, Tim and John, to pack up after the last set (2am), and drive through the night, and the whole of the next day, with only brief stops for fuel and food.

This was well before the days of cell phones and texting.  We were broke, and long-distance was expensive so we didn’t call much.  In my excitement to get home I had forgotten to alert Nance that I may be home earlier than she was expecting. Approaching the border of Manitoba, it suddenly dawned on me how terrible it would be if I walked in the door and she would be visiting with, or out with, friends.  Hence, the song…

 

 

 ALONE TONIGHT
music: Steve Bell  lyric: Steve Bell and Byron O’Donnell

Still a ways to Manitoba
Been awhile since I’ve been gone
Been a day since we were talkin’ on the phone
Still ahead the longest distance
Just the last few miles to go
Lord I pray there’s only one smile at the door

Will we be all alone tonight
Just to be what we both know is right
Will a candle be burning
Will love have a chance to ignite
Will the rest give us just one more day
Lord I hope she has planned it that way
All I want is to know
Will we be all alone tonight

If my friends are all there with her
Oh the night will never end
And I’ll just have to smile and try to act surprised
I ‘spose we’ll laugh at all my stories
We’ll be glad I’m home again
But I’ll just die each time I look into her eyes

Will we be all alone tonight…

Oh how I miss her
I can’t wait till that moment at the door
Just like I rehearsed it over and over

Will we be all alone tonight…

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2. That’s Alright With Me (1987)

This song came along with a shock of reality.  It never once occured to me while growing up how difficult adult life could be. I suppose I just assumed that once freed from the obligations of school and home, life would be a string of mostly easy, pleasant choices.  Ha!!   I also didn’t realize how under-resourced I was for the task, and felt a significant shame at how I was handling much of it….

One night I was feeling the weight of it all: marriage, parenting, career, mortgages, car payments etc., when it suddenly occured to me that I wouldn’t give up any of it, and I became overwhelmed with gratitude for the life I had with Nance, the children we so adored, and even for the struggle itself which pushed us to places of unexpected grace.

Hence the song…

 

That’s Alright With Me
music and lyric by Steve Bell

Can I tell you the story of an average boy
A story we all knew so well
It’s not the tale of never-ending joy
Nor trials beyond what one can tell
My childhood seemed like an eternity
Each morning ruled by education bells
My youth was full of possibilities
But only few have had their fill

My love, she works the other side of town
Each day, she leaves for work by nine
Her smile is sweeter than an april shower
Her wrath is hotter than July
They say a couple can together be
With age, a cup of love refined
Although I love my darling tenderly
This growing old may take some time

My boy is just a babe of one year old
My girl is but a child of four
Both born with eyes of blue and hair of gold
‘Spose maybe yet we’ll still have more
They say a father’s love is suffering
This day, already I can tell
Although I love my children tenderly
Sometimes, you know, raising kids is hell

Now looking back on what we’ve come to be
With many years to look ahead
Ours has never been a winning lottery
Whoever promised that it would
We’ll cry each time a sorrow comes to mind
We’ll laugh each opportunity
We’ll learn to celebrate what comes to pass
You know that that’s alright with me

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3. Let’s Do It Again (late 80’s)

I’m not exactly sure when I wrote this –  late 80’s I believe.  In those days, Nance and I belonged to a unique church group in Winnipeg called Grain of Wheat Church Community.   It was a wonderful, but intense group that explored simple lifestyle, a degree of communal living, and issues of social justice. We all lived within a few blocks of each other, some of us sharing homes and vehicles. We cared for each other’s children, each other’s commitments, and challenged many of the entitlements of western society that alienated one from the other, the rich from the poor, the mighty from the lowly, and the loved from the unloved.

We were indeed youthful and idealistic –  mostly in a good way that shaped us all profoundly – but you can imagine there were conflicts and difficulties.

I no longer remember the particular situation, but there came a crisis to the community that almost undid us.  I remember having a meeting where we decided to all go home for a few days and think about the possibility of disbanding.  It was a terrible and sad time – we had invested so much.  And it so happened that Nance and I, at the same time, had been going through a stressful time in our own relationship as well.

We returned a few days later  with everyone choosing to stay on and continue to fight for the love we shared.  So, when I wrote the following song, I had both situations  – the community’s, and Nance and I – in mind.

As it turns out, Nance never knew this song was written for us  (as well as the community)  till only a few weeks ago.  I guess I never said…

 

Let’s Do It Again
music and lyric by Steve Bell

If we could roll back the time
And start at the beginning again
Knowing all we would find
Would we walk through it over again
Maybe it’s true that we were out of our minds
Cause oh, would you, would I
Have come to this table if we weren’t blind
To eat from this bread and to drink from this wine

Do you think we’d have the courage again
Knowing what we’d have to spend
What I’m asking myself, what I’m asking my friend
Would we do it again

By the look on your face
I know before you can speak
What the answer will be
Or we wouldn’t be here in this place
Maybe it’s true, that we’re still out of our minds
But oh, could you, could I
Forfeit this love, could we forfeit this life
Only to feed on what we’ve left behind

Do you think we have the courage again
Knowing what we’ll have to spend
What I’m asking myself, what I’m asking my friend
Should we do it again
Should we do it again
Let’s do it again

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4. She’s In Love With Me (late 80’s)

This was written soon after Let’s Do It Again in the late 80’s.   As I already mentioned, Nance and I had been going through some relational stress. But somehow we managed to work it through until gradually a felt, mutual affection returned.  I remember coming home one day to find Nance in the kitchen getting supper ready. As I walked in the room, she spun around to greet me with  a warm,  beautiful and welcoming face. It had been some time since I’d seen delight in her eyes… and I’ll never forget it.

The song “She’s in Love With Me” has only one line of lyric because that was all, and everything I had to say…

 

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5. What a Longing (1992)

The love one has for one’s children is a kind of suffering; a longing and an ache that I’m not sure I can explain.

I once wrote that our children are like medical balloons inserted into our souls, and inflated to create a tender space. But when they leave us, the space doesn’t recede back to how it was.  Rather, it leaves a hollow cavern, except for the few trinkets left behind to remind us of those precious years.

And there’s something innate in us that wants to flourish our children with the very finest of things.  Hence the song…

 

What a Longing
music and lyric by Steve Bell

Many times a day I think of you
And how our family’s grown in just these last few years
What a feeling!
And I marvel looking at you
You’re a mama
I’m a pappa

And I wonder what we’ll pass along
The only family fortune is our God
What a longing!
To see our children behold him
Like their mama
Like their pappa

Some reason now, I’m caused to think of him
Jesus weeping for Jerusalem
What a longing!
To gather under his wings
Like a mama
Like a papa

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6. We Believe In Love (2002)

Shortly after her graduation, our daughter Sarah, and her then-boyfriend Steve announced that they hoped to get married the following year. We had known this fellow for some time and were rather fond of him, so we were delighted and began to make preparations for a wedding.

But it wasn’t meant to be.  A few months before the wedding, Sarah, with many tears, suddenly announced that she didn’t feel right about it, and broke off the engagement.  It was a sad time for us all,  but of course Nance and I were proud and relieved that Sarah followed her instincts even though it would be painful.

I wrote “We Believe In Love” for the both of them really.  When you’re young, it’s hard to comprehend that love is to life what light is to air. Light penetrates air completely without being disturbed or diminished by whatever turbulence of wind there may be. But you kind-of have to live through a bit of grief to know that. Love simply ‘is’ , and it does what it does quite independent of life’s disappointments. Our sadnesses are real, but love still penetrates. And in indeed, for both of them it has.

 

We Believe In Love
music an lyric by Steve Bell

True love is not often
Crisp roses chosen by a worthy suitor
More likely, like chocholate
Much sweetness folded in a melt of bitter

How can we say that God has cheated us
When this crush of grief is proof that we have loved

We believe in love
We believe in love
We believe in love still
We believe in love
We believe in love
We believe, and will until still comes

You must try and navigate these swelling seas
Your mom and I will stand up on the bow and sing that…

We believe in love…
  _________________________________________

 

7. Long Love (Valentines Day 2012)

Valentines Day, 2012, was the 30th anniversary of our first date. We had already been good friends  (chums even) when Nance and I decided to go for dinner at The Beachcomber Restaurant in downtown Winnipeg.   We were married seven months later!

Recently, I found a poem by  Richard Wilbur who wrote (presumably about someone he’s loved for some time) that these long loves are neither tame nor staid, but more like a wild sostenuto of the heart.  Indeed.

On Valentines Day 2012, the 30th anniversary of our first date, I wrote this song using  a slighly modified version of Wilbur’s poem for the chorus. The verses reflect on our shared love of fine dining , the mystery of the passing years, and my ever increasing admiration and adoration of this very fine woman I’ve shared most of my life with.

 

Long Love (Valentines Day 2012)
music an lyric by Steve Bell

Well it’s been thirty years of dining with you love
We’ve been feasting on the stuff that life’s made of
We have shared the finest fare
And we have know the cupboard bare
But it’s been good, so very good

Do you remember how we promised we’d grow old
Now we have children who have children of their own
Because my musing needs a home
I have found a patial poem I think will do
To sing to you…

There’s a certain scope to that long love
That constant spirits are the keepers of
Though often said to be tame and staid
Is a wild sostenuto of the heart
A passion joined to courtesy and art
Like a good fiddle, like a rose scent,
A stain  glass window – or, the firmament
Like a square-dance lady and her square-dance gent
It’s a long love, a long love
Which constant spirits are the keepers of

And may I say you’re still a babe and lookin’ fine
Seem you’ve been cheating on the ravages of time
And I already rue the day, when it’s time for me to say
Goodby to you 

There’s a certain scope….

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