This was the title of a song when I was a young woman, back in the 1960s. I hear it a lot on the channel guide that my local cable company puts up — they play a lot of “elevator music,” which is actually quite relaxing, when you’ve had it up to Here with ads for luxury items on the local classical-music station — and I thought I’d track down the lyrics. A Google search notes that it was first sung by Leslie Uggams (from the old Mitch Miller show!) in 1968, and a best seller for jazz singer Peggy Lee in 1969; a Wikipedia citation notes the existential quality of the song:
Of course, there’s a lot more to this song, a string of disappointments that end in the refrain, “Is that all there is?” The final lyric runs:
I know what you must be saying to yourselves,
if that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
Oh, no, not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment,
for I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you,
when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my lst breath, I’ll be saying to myself: Is that all there is, is that all there is…
It comes to me, on this Great and Holy Friday, because last night I was one of two chanters singing the Canon of this day, contrasting the perfect goodness of our Lord with the avarice of Judas and the envy of the Pharisees and Sadducees that put Him to death, the feeble efforts of Pilate to save His life, and the final disappointment of His followers: Is that all there is?
We all know about death. There is no return. It all ends at death. After all the expectations, after all the miracles (including raising people from the dead!), after all that lofty talk, after all the Hosannas of less than a week earlier, after a meal shared in closest intimacy among friends who were so sure of themselves and their Leader–and this is how it ends?! Is that all there is?!
Not to mention His Mother. Who can begin to imagine what she must have been thinking: the miraculous entry into her life of her Child, the circumstances of His birth, all the odd little moments they must have shared as mother and Son, the miracle at Cana — all to end in a death no mother ever wants to witness for anybody, let alone her own Child…what it must have taken for her to say to herself, “This can’t be all there is.”
In about an hour I will take myself off to church to read the Royal Hours with my priest. While he is conducting a retreat for the Sunday School, I will review the Sunday bulletin one last time and print it out. This afternoon there will be the Vespers of the Unnailing, and tonight the Lamentations, processing out onto the street with the Tomb of Christ, up to the library and around into the parking lot and back into the church, a deeply moving procession that is not without its own hazards, such as the couple who bought candles at church, joined in the tail end of the procession, and, as we all filed back into church, asked the ushers, “What are we protesting?” Is that all there is to a candlelight procession?!
Then comes tomorrow morning, the Vesperal Liturgy, with that incredible reading from Ezekiel about the dry bones, and the Canticle of the Three Youths who relied on God to keep them safe from the flames — and He did — this canticle of such great faith and trust, and while it’s going on, yet again, our Lord is busy at work, harrowing Hades and “leading forth them that were captive.” And tomorrow night — the Resurrection, the cancelling out of death’s power over us, when our Lord, having bound Satan in his own chains and “cleaned house” in Hades, brings Himself back from the dead, as if to say to Satan, “That’s all there is to you, buster. Now take your existential philosoophy to the trash heap of history and stop bothering people.”
Eternal life. That’s not only all there is, but the fullness of all there is. Christ is risen, and death is conquered! Christos anesti! Christos voskrese! Christos a inviat!
That’s way more “all” than I can handle in a lifetime — an “all” big enough to last for all of eternity.