Olivia Newton-John's Song offered Hope to a Religious Girl
When I read this week about Olivia Newton-John’s decision to reject hearing from her doctors how long she has to live, I was taken back to the first time I heard her song, “Have You Never Been Mellow?” (1975) I was growing up at the time in a conservative movement that taught us anything but this type of peace. Newton-John, now at age 70, has stage four cancer and is facing this life-ending challenge with the grace of having arrived at the “comfort from inside” herself.
The church didn’t teach me that, even when it lip-synched a “peace that passes understanding” when reading Philippians 4:7. I recall at that young age the troubling thought that she knew something even then that we did not know with our hyper concern for being right, telling others they were going to hell, striving for correct living, correct doctrine, correct interactions, correct clothing, etc. I knew then, deep inside, that I longed to be mellow.
At the time, we thought Newton-John was a horrible influence with her role in Grease (1978) as a good girl turned sexy in skin-tight, black leggings before they were popular. We thought she was “animal” for her song, “Physical,” (1981) which encouraged us to let our bodies talk.
I know little of what has happened to her through the years, how she has lived her life, but I see the way she faces the possible end of her life with the grace and wisdom of that song. I do know what happened to me through the years and slowly, slowly, I have become more mellow, casting away what negative intensity I inherited from my upbringing. Thank God.
My early encounter with her song was not enough to save me from years of striving, but it did send out a beacon of hope. Somewhere, somehow, it is possible to be mellow, to live with an inner peace. Olivia Newton-John, thank you for that small glimpse. Thank you that it became more than a song to you. Whenever you pass from this life, I hope you find your way peacefully, as I hope for us all.