Brilliant Songs #32: Susan Werner’s “May I Suggest”

I thought about appending the song discussed here as the musical selection to last week’s post on C.S. Lewis’s “Learning in War-Time” sermon, but I was so struck with the lyrics of “May I Suggest” that I found myself wanting to take the deeper dive that is the purpose of this “Brilliant Songs” series. So here we go…

In its lyrics, “May I Suggest” can be seen as a kind of companion to “Learning in War-Time.” It goes Lewis’s case—for the value of intellectual inquiry, art and beauty no matter what the world situation is—one better by making an overt, poetic appeal to the transcendent dimension that life so often beckons us to consider when we step back just a smidge from the daily grind.

Too many scenes and dreams to count or remember, but their sum total can make all the difference in lives lived with good fortune and the good grace to appreciate it.

Werner uses the arts of writing and singing a beautiful song to make the very point that Lewis makes intellectually about the need to create and live in beauty, even when the world is going to hell. She does so with an interesting title that hovers ambiguously between a declarative sentence with a subtext of “Here’s what you need to consider” and a polite question seeking permission to offer a suggestion that just may dramatically improve the listener’s life.

I freely acknowledge I may be making more of this than Werner intended.

But that’s the beauty (and sometimes the bane) of every art form—once it leaves the creator’s purview, there’s no telling what and how it will speak to its audience.

“May I…?” asks whether the listener is interested in what the speaker might say. Leaving the question mark off suggests no one asked for advice in the first place, but the speaker is confident enough in the value of her suggestion to offer it anyway.

And confident she has every right to be, given the tenderly rendered, essentially spiritual message Werner offers up regarding the blessings of beauty and bliss that the world stands ever ready to bestow upon us, and the unique points of light every one of us is in reflecting those blessings.

Too dreamy by half? Perhaps, but where would we stand without dreams competing for our attention beneath us, ready for occasional flight?



If you go to You Tube and type in “May I Suggest,” the first three selections are by the New York-origin a capella trio Red Molly, whose delicate harmonies we will add as a bonus track to Werner’s original version here. Red Molly has a longtime relationship with Werner and has occasionally sung  in concert with her. Theirs is an artistic collaboration that seems to have paid great benefits to both parties, and we are among the lucky beneficiaries.

Let’s listen to Werner here first, with the lyrics embedded into the video. The written lyrics follow.




May I suggest
May I suggest to you
May I suggest this is the best part of your life
May I suggest
This time is blessed for you
This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright
Just turn your head
And you’ll begin to see
The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight
The reasons why
Why I suggest to you
Why I suggest this is the best part of your life

There is a world
That’s been addressed to you
Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes
A secret world
Like a treasure chest to you
Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerize
A lover’s trusting smile
A tiny baby’s hands
The million stars that fill the turning sky at night
Oh I suggest
Oh I suggest to you
Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life

There is a hope
That’s been expressed in you
The hope of seven generations, maybe more
And this is the faith
That they invest in you
It’s that you’ll do one better than was done before
Inside you know
Inside you understand
Inside you know what’s yours to finally set right
And I suggest
And I suggest to you
And I suggest this is the best part of your life

This is a song
Comes from the west to you
Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun
With a request
With a request of you
To see how very short the endless days will run
And when they’re gone
And when the dark descends
Oh we’d give anything for one more hour of light

And I suggest this is the best part of your life


There’s a hymn-like quality to this song that suggests it almost as the close of a church service, everyone gathered in a circle, hands linked, bathed in equal parts solemnity and inspiration. It is a call to our better angels, or perhaps more accurately, a definitive recognition of those angels.

It declares a knowledge borne of the singer’s faith and hope in the goodness of life, and—this is important, I think—her subjective experience of that faith and hope. She has lived it and believes in it as an existential and available reality, strongly enough to suggest it to you—multiple times, wrapped in some of the very beauty and goodness she sings of.

Does this reflect a higher wisdom or lapse into sentimentality?

I’m reminded here of “The New Yorker” cartoon featuring a waiter about to set glasses of wine in front of a couple, asking, “O.K., now who ordered the glass half-empty, and who ordered the glass half-full?”

The glasses, of course, contain the same amount of wine.



The world is good and it calls to you, Werner insists. There is a definite religious sensibility at play here, though of a slightly gauzy kind. It’s what New Age spirituality might call “trusting the universe” (despite the universe sometimes hurling earthquakes and hostile armies at us).

But the universe often (more often?) smiles and inspires, too, with its “million stars” and “tiny baby’s hands” and eyes attuned to “private scenes and brilliant dreams.”

Too many scenes and dreams to count or remember, but their sum total can make all the difference in lives lived with good fortune and the good grace to appreciate it.

Is any given time indeed “the best part of your life?” Sometimes life brings  what feels like only misery, but I sense we should not get too literal here.

Amidst privation, there is the potential of plenty, but more to the point is that we are masters only of our interior world, of our response not only to whatever sufferings we may endure, but also the stars that persist in gleaming overhead, and the “secret world/Like a treasure chest” that beats in our own chests till the end of our days.

And in the interim, as we experience (increasingly with age) “how very short the endless days will run,” we come to understand more clearly that we are not alone, and never have been.

Indeed, many others stretching back generations have encountered the same dreams we have, part of them manifesting as “a hope in you,” an investment of love, time and toil, the task and goal of every generation being at least partly (hugely, in healthy adults) to give of itself to the next, its only request being to “do one better than was done before.”

Or is that request really an implicit declaration?



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5 comments to Brilliant Songs #32: Susan Werner’s “May I Suggest”

  • kirkthill  says:

    When Bruce Springsteen opened for Anne Murray, Robert Christgau, from the Village Voice wrote, ““Murray’s band was better than Springsteen’s, which like a lot of great rock and roll groups tends to repeat itself. The difference, of course, was that Springsteen’s music was necessary.

    Read More: The time Bruce Springsteen opened for Anne Murray |

    I guess at some points in our lives we need music that is necessary. Even though I find “May I suggest” a beautiful song, and will listen to it when I have had my fill of the world’s and media’s negativity, at this point in my life I would rather listen to the timeless words of Bob Dylan. Yet, I ask myself, what good were they given our current condition. Hmmm, maybe It is necessary for me to listen to “May I Suggest” again.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      I imagine the flip side of your question, Kirk, would be: How much worse would the world be were it not for Dylan, and Springsteen, and Joni, and Wynton and Mozart and Beethoven and Rachmaninov and Puccini? Et al!! I shudder to think..

      Seems that so much of it comes down to self-care: that amidst the world’s maelstrom, we seek refuge in music, which, being what it is, connects us to what I would suggest is a kind of heaven on earth. And it’s a heaven that we can enjoy solo, with headphones in our bedroom, but also out with our fellow humans, nodding, tapping, bouncing & grinning next to us, or wild with abandon out on the dance floor. Music as balm, no matter what the setting—powerful stuff!

      Now my suggestion: Make sure you catch the Red Molly version of “May I Suggest” if you haven’t already. The harmonies alone will send you, I’m pretty sure….

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    Whenever I hear someone downplaying the impact of global warming, I think about the trees of green and the red roses, too. Then, I see them bloom, and I think to myself what a wonderful world surrounds me. Whenever I see the destruction of the Ukrainian war become overwhelmingly sad, I search for the skies of blue and clouds of white. I treasure how the bright blessed day welcomes the dark scared night, and I think to myself what a wonderful world this can be. Whenever I witness the hatred, which is tearing our nation asunder, I imagine the beauty of the colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky, and visualize its reflection in the faces of people going by. I see friends shaking hands and even asking one another, “How are you doing?” When I watch a mother strolling in a park with her baby, I recall how much fun it is watching my grandchildren grow. I think about all of these things and tell myself, “What a wonderful world we live in.” I just hope that the evil which seems to be so prevalent today will never drown out the joy of listening to Satchmo’s rich voice soothe me with his wonderful words. Music has the power to do all of this with such grace and hope.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Robert, I well remember hearing Satchmo with that song the first time, not so much the exact time and place (maybe 40 years or so ago?) but how it just stopped me in my tracks and compelled me to listen to it over & over again, wearing those tell-tale scratchy grooves into the vinyl. Which I did for decades, and still enjoy when I come across it. It’s a true classic for the ages, so thanks for the nifty stitching together of it you did here. Carry on!

  • Jeanette Millard  says:

    My favorite phrase in your wonderful piece about a wonderful song, is
    “…their sum total can make all the difference in lives lived with good fortune and the good grace to appreciate it.” You acknowledge the role of good fortune (thank you) and also remind us that appreciation is a personal choice. As the Buddhists say, life is pain, but suffering is a choice. Susan Werner flips the same truth to the glass half full: Life is full of beauty, if you pay attention.

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