Foreign languages are extremely cool. When I was growing up, our education system had limited class options compared to what is offered today. Back then it was very popular to learn Spanish or French. My friends believed learning a second language gave them a better chance of one day leaving our state of Missouri and visiting faraway lands where their studies would come in handy.
My kids were fortunate to have had so many more language choices at their schools, including Chinese and Japanese. In fact, my daughter reached even further outside the box and enrolled in our high school district’s newly introduced sign language curriculum. She did say it came in quite handy, particularly the time when she stood in a fast food line and “read” the intimate yet very entertaining conversation of two completely engaged signers.
I, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky as my friends or my children. I studied Latin. Yep, Latin. Here I was, a Jewish girl who didn’t even know Hebrew, poring over the yawn-producing works of Virgil and Ovid. Why on earth would anyone pick a dead language to learn instead of parlez vous-ing with their amigos?
I began my Latin journey in middle school, studied it throughout high school, and even minored in the strenuous language in college. Please don’t ask if I can recall any of the specifics today because, well, I can’t. But I will admit the English portion of my SATs was easier for me than for my friends. And I was literally the only person at work who actually knew what carpe diem meant before the movie “Dead Poets Society” popularized the phrase in 1989. That’s when I thought, “Hey, maybe Latin actually is cool.”
But it isn’t. Not for my Dad who studied it before me or for my three children who begrudgingly studied it after me. Latin is sold as a language that enables you to learn other languages more easily. Well, that’s what my teachers and my Dad said. It was once deemed a universal language. I saw nothing universal about it.
To me, music is the universal language. It speaks volumes whether lyrics accompany the melodies or not. In fact, you don’t really need to understand the words at all. The music alone makes you feel all the feels that are possible in our universe: happy, sad, scared, relieved, peaceful, amused, and much more.
As we move into 2021—or MMXXI for my fellow Latin lovers—I hope music serves as the inspiration for our universe to do better and be better in the upcoming year. I’ve paired some of my musical favorites with groundbreaking nonprofits in an effort to show their harmonious relationship and inspire everyone to feel the music.
Greatest Love Of All
Whitney Houston topped the charts with her 1985 rendition of this song that eloquently touted the words “I believe the children are our future/teach them well and let them lead the way/show them all the beauty they possess inside/give them a sense of pride.”
Share the love: Founded in 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (www.bbbs.org) is the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network. The organization creates meaningful matches across the country between adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children (“Littles”) ages five through young adulthood. The result: positive relationships that have a direct and long-lasting effect on the lives of young people.
John Lennon visualized a world where all people lived in peace and harmony, citing “You may say I’m a dreamer/but I’m not the only one/I hope someday you’ll join us/and the world will be as one.”
Embrace the imagination: The Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org) —a leading conservation organization in the U.S. and around the world—works with public and private partners to ensure our lands and waters are protected for future generations. The organization makes a lasting difference in 79 countries and territories around the world.
We Are The Champions
This Queen song is an anthem to all who have struggled and overcome. “We’ll keep on fighting till the end” summarizes the feelings of hope and resilience since, both now and in the future, since there is “no time for losers/‘cause we are the champions.”
Support the champions: National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, is dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI provides advocacy, education, support, and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives.
“You are beautiful no matter what they say/words can’t bring you down” eloquently sung by Christina Aguilera is a battle cry for those who have been made to feel less than who they actually are.
Picture the beauty: The National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation (www.nwcave.org) helps to inform, educate and prevent violence against women and children nationally and internationally. This volunteer-operated nonprofit focuses on everything from human trafficking, bullying, hate crimes, missing children, sexual assault, and all forms of violence and exploitation against women and children.
I’m Still Standing
Singer and writer Elton John cemented our thoughts with lyrics that included “I’m still standing better than I ever did/looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid.” John, who kicked his addiction to drugs and alcohol, recently celebrated 30 years of sobriety.
Stand by the standers: The Amy Winehouse Foundation (www.amywinehousefoundation.org) was created by her family in 2011 after the extremely talented English singer/songwriter tragically passed away at the age of 27. The foundation works to prevent the effects of drug and alcohol misuse on young people through a range of initiatives and programs.
“Say what you wanna say/and let the words fall out/honestly, I wanna see you be brave” was co-written and sung by Sara Bareilles, who says it was a message to a friend who was struggling to come out as gay. Bareilles said the song also was about herself in that “we could try to be stronger than our weaknesses.”
Encourage the brave: The Trevor Project (www.thetrevorproject.org) —founded in 1998 by the creators of the Oscar-winning short film TREVOR—is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people under 25 years old.
Don’t Stop Believing
Journey’s song instructs the listener to “hold on to the feeling” of one’s optimistic aspirations. The words are based on a phone call that co-writer Steve Perry had with his Dad who—after his son said his dream of becoming a famous musician wasn’t working out in Hollywood—responded with the “don’t stop believing” phrase that later became one of the greatest rock anthems ever sung.
Believe the believers:
For more than five decades, the Special Olympics (www.specialolympics.org) has helped people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills and success through the power of sports. The organization provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for both children and adults so they can develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, and experience joy.
While I did learn a lot from studying Latin, I still can’t speak the language (it’s pretty much deemed a dead language anyway) or hear the language (unless I attend mass in the Vatican City.) But I can definitely feel a sense of serenity wash over me when listening to “musica” (that’s the Latin word for “music”) in my universe, which gives me peace of mind and hope for our world after the year we have had.
What songs got you through the tumultuous 2020 and prepared you for this new year? I’d love to hear about your inspirations.