Lovers in a Dangerous Time

July 11, 2011

Lovers at the Vancouver Riot

This picture has been around the internet for a while now, but I saw it for the first time the other day and it made me very happy. It was taken during the riot in Vancouver, B.C. on June 15, 2011. Vancouver was rioting because their hockey team lost game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. The riots injured over 140 people and caused millions of dollars in damage.

The story behind the photo: Although it appears that the couple are sharing a romantic moment in the middle of the riot, oblivious to the mayhem surrounding them, the apparent truth is that the woman had just been knocked down by riot police, and her boyfriend was kissing her to comfort her and calm her down. The photographer saw them on the ground and stopped to snap the picture without realizing they were kissing. It wasn’t until the following morning when his editor looked through his pictures and stopped on this one that he realized what an an amazing moment he’d captured.

The picture brings to mind the song “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” by Bruce Cockburn.

Cockburn (pronounced “co-burn,” thank you), a Canadian, released the song in 1984 on Stealing Fire, an album inspired by the refugee crisis in Guatemala. The song was covered, tenderly, by the Barenaked Ladies (also Canadian) in 1991. I prefer the cover. The original is dusty, thumping, no-nonsense. The cover is a more shimmering, mysterious song. The heavy drumbeat and gaudy 80s synth are replaced by sighing strings and a timorous piano flirting in the breaths between verses. It becomes a mournful, wayward piece of music, a contrast to the original’s driving intensity.

The lyrics are about taking advantage of the time we’re given and embracing love even when the rest of the world seems to be conspiring against us. “When you’re lovers in a dangerous time / sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime. / Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight. / You gotta kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

However, as this picture from Vancouver reminds us, rather than a hindrance to love, dangerous circumstances can sometimes lead to the most passionate moments. As we know from innumerable action movies, passions are prone to flare in life-or-death situations. The woman in the picture here will remember that kiss for the rest of her life, above all the other thousands of kisses she’ll have. Danger makes us acutely aware of our surroundings; it gives us heightened sensory perceptions, which in turn makes the moments we experience more vivid and intense. She will never have another kiss imbued with such urgency. No kiss in her future will feel as necessary or as vital.

The song, in a way, realizes this. The stance it takes is that we should savor these moments, wonderfully heightened, before they are taken from us. Girl, look at this boy. Boy, look at this girl: “These fragile bodies of touch and taste. This fragrant skin, this hair like lace.”

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