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Wise Men Say

Wise men say,
only fools rush in,
but I can’t help
falling in love with you

The words are clear; his rational side is telling him to be cautious, but these feelings have swept him off his feet, overwhelmed him, consumed him, obliterated him. He is completely and utterly in love, and with this declaration, he can hold in these feelings no longer. The above lyrics are from the song “Can’t help falling in love with you” by Elvis Presley. The song is so beautiful in its raw emotional simplicity; there is no ambiguity in his words as he declares his painful infatuation towards his mystery lover.

Simple songs like this with obvious messages are timelessly adored by many of us, as we can relate them to the current events of our lives in some way; whether the theme is new love, old love, love loss; for happy times or sad times, with a good song, it’s easy to put yourself in the centre as the story’s protagonist and the words become a vessel to express what you otherwise weren’t capable of expressing. When you hear a song like this one, in which someone is declaring their undying love to another, you would probably imagine your partner, or your someone you have a crush on, but when I hear this song, I don’t think of those things; I think of Sunderland football club.

Sunderland is a modest city in the North East of England, the bones of which were built on shipyards and a general traditional working-class sensibility. It is far from glamorous; there is very little wealth there, the city centre has little to offer in terms of culture or entertainment, and it’s usually really cold. I say all this with love, as it will always be the home to my heart. But when I was growing up there, I was desperate to leave. I had become completely repelled by the romanticising of a working-class culture that became a hotbed to perpetuate crappy worldviews and an environment of toxic masculinity. There was this warped concept of ‘toughness’. At the time, it was a place where showing your emotions made you appear ‘soft’ and ‘weak’, and it was something, as a young man, you just didn’t do.

Probably the most well known thing about the city of Sunderland is their football team. There’s a hyperbolic expression up there that “the people of Sunderland live and breathe football”. It’s over the top, but that expression is efficient in the sense that it conveys the importance of the sport in the city and how much the football team means to its inhabitants. The people of Sunderland built a community around that football club, and every Saturday afternoon they come together and put their pain aside for ninety minutes and watch their team play.

So this brings us to that Elvis song. Every home game, in the interim moments between the players running onto the pitch for the first time and just before the game gets under way, everything in the stadium pauses. The opening piano notes flutter out of the speakers and into one hundred thousand ears, as fifty thousand people stand up. As The King begins to sing, his voice is drowned out by the sound of those fifty-thousand serenading their team:

“Wise men say”. They stretch out their arms, making themselves as big as they can for all the world to see. “Only fools rush in”. Now their bodies have found the rhythm of the song and they all begin to sway in unison. “But I can’t help”. With every word they utter, they become more and more certain of their feelings. There is no longer any doubt. “Falling in love with you”. They are completely and utterly vulnerable.

It’s a moment of pure unapologetic confession, a moment to express that we are rendered powerless to the love that we feel. As a child growing up in the midst of that toxic tough-guy culture, this was the last place I expected to find vulnerability on show. The poisonous mentality pumped throughout the city had no jurisdiction here in this stadium, as the people came together as a community to defy those backwards ideas and break free from the prison of shame they had been born into. In a world where it is so difficult to be vulnerable and expose our deepest and most precious parts of ourselves for fear of being cut down as we present our defenceless selves, this moment, this ritual, on a Saturday afternoon was one I always romanticised.

My favourite verse of the song begins:

Take my hand,
Take my whole life too

It’s incredibly dramatic as far as romantic gestures go, even for a love song, but that’s why I love it so much. It cuts right through me. You are faced with a feeling that is so intense, and as it towers over you, you realise that trying to identify it’s edges is futile. You’ve already conceded that you are powerless to it, but that’s not enough. The love is of a magnitude so great you can’t even comprehend. You don’t feel worthy of being in its presence, and so you offer it the only thing you have to offer; you offer it your life as a consolation for your inadequacy.

It was a valuable life lesson for me, one that I was nowhere near mature enough to be conscious of at the time, but one that looking back now, I am so grateful for. As I go through life, I have realised how important it is to me to be vulnerable, and for that sensibility to be shared with those around me. It’s about standing up and not doubting that the world is standing up with you, spreading your arms out as wide as you can with no hesitation in your heart, with no fear of being seen, because here you feel safe. And you take a deep breath, and then begin to sing…

Recommended1 Simily SnapPublished in All Stories, Coming of Age, Happy Read, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Opinion Piece, Personal Narrative, Romance, Sports, True Story

Responses

  1. Oh my! That was so emotionally powerful. The words were so descriptive that I could feel the tough guy love pouring over that football stadium. Gianni, I think that this story of yours has touched me more profoundly than any others I’ve read of yours so far. Being open and vulnerable is not easy but necessary for growth, I think.