Praying with Billy Joel

For someone who loves 70s singer-songwriters, I am sorely deficient in my knowledge of Billy Joel. I mean, I can sing along to “Piano Man” in a heartbeat, but that’s as far as it goes. So when “Only the Good Die Young” came on the radio the other day, I turned it up, hoping to further my Billy Joel education. At first I was disappointed. After the first few lines, I thought I had the song pegged as a an anti-church cliche with a little bit of Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” thrown in:

Come out Virginia, don’t let me wait.
You Catholic girls start much too late.
Aw, but sooner or later it comes down to fate.
I might as well be the one.

Well, they showed you a statue, told you to pray.
They built you a temple and locked you away.
Aw, but they never told you the price that you pay
for things that you might have done.
Only the good die young.

But I kept listening, and I’m glad I did, because of this line in the bridge:

You say your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation
She never cared for me
But did she ever say a prayer for me? 

Wait a second — did Billy Joel just remind me of an important truth about prayer? I think he did.

According to Wikipedia, Billy Joel has said that “…the point of the song wasn’t so much anti-Catholic as pro-lust,” but it is also, in its own way, pro-love as well, since praying for someone is a good way to learn how to love them. The song reminded me of this article, in which a man with opposite political views of President Obama learns to love him just through the habit of praying for him. It reminded me of how it only takes a second to pray for that person who overshares personal information in the facebook feed for me to begin to care about that person and their otherwise “TMI” statuses. It reminded me of how I’m a better friend and family member when I remember to pray for the important people in my life. When I do, suddenly my excuses about being too busy to write or call seem silly; when I pray for them, I start to love them better. And as the song suggests, praying for someone is a good way to stop judging them as well. So thanks, Billy Joel, for that lesson — I better catch up on your body of work just to see what else you have to tell me!

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