Great Big Love: The Story of a Song by Barbara McAfee

Every Dancing Heart Program ends with the same song, “Great Big Love,” composed by Lauren Anthony and me when she was about 12 years old. It’s Lauren’s voice you hear singing along with me on the recording. I recently told the story of how it came to be written to Kairos Alive! founder and director, Maria Genne’.

Though Maria and I have been close friends for many years, she had never heard the story of how the song came to be. She invited me share it here as a tribute to the ways that creative work intersects with the mysteries of life, death, friendship, and celebration.

It is 1996. I am seated at the piano in a southwest Minneapolis church with group of people gathered for a fundraiser. I’m not sure if I will be able to sing. My heart is shattered from the sudden loss of a 17-year-old friend, Kirsten Bergh, who died in a car accident. I’m also grieving her mother’s serious injury and the death of Kirsten’s friend, Nina, who was also in the accident.

I managed to get through the songs I’ve prepared. When the program is over, I’m sitting at the piano bench when a nine-year-old girl with huge brown eyes plops down next to me. I recognize her as the daughter of friends from the church, but don’t recall having much interaction with her before.

Now I am not a kid magnet. I like children a lot, but they don’t come and attach themselves to me like they do to so many other people with that gift. But here was Lauren – gazing up at me with loving admiration.

Her mom, Terri, called me a few days later with this report: “We have a major Barbara McAfee Fan Club going over here at my house. Lauren listens to your Britches CD every morning before school and every night before she goes to sleep. How about that?”

When I hung up the phone, I started pondering why this girl was so showing up so strongly in my life. I recalled that shortly after Kirsten died, I went over to her home and let myself in. (Her mom and housemates were all in New York where the accident took place.) There was only one thing pinned to Kirsten’s bulletin board in her room: “If you can’t be with the one you love, Honey, love the one you’re with” from the song by Stephen Stills.

I began to wonder if Kirsten was at work somehow, directing me to open my heart to this new girl-child the way I’d opened it to her.

Lauren’s parents and I decided that we should honor our connection by getting us together from time to time, so Lauren and I started getting together now and again for voice lessons. (I’m a voice coach)

We did a lot of singing together. And talked a lot. And enjoyed each other. Soon our friendship extended beyond voice lessons to include dinners at Noodles, walks around the neighborhood, and time hanging out at my apartment. When her parents were going through a difficult divorce, sometimes our “lesson” would shift into cuddle time.

During one lesson, we began talking about our extraordinary friendship, which name “soul mother” and “soul daughter”. Out of that conversation, the song “Great Big Love” was born. We wrote it side by side on the piano bench, laughing and shedding tears of gratitude.


Now Lauren is grown up and living in Milwaukee with her partner and his two children. She’s got her degree and is one of those big-hearted, very smart young women who is a gift to all who know her.

We marvel at how our little song – and the love that is behind it – continues to spread in the world through the Dancing Heart program. Every time it is sung, I imagine Kirsten smiling in heaven and Lauren feeling a little shiver of joy in Milwaukee.

“Who can explain this Great Big Love?”
Hope this link to the song works. – Lynnea


The mission of Kairos Dance Theatre is to transform and revitalize individuals and communities. We work with older adults in intergenerational settings to liberate the healing power of interactive dance and story. We achieve our mission by engaging the skills of professional teaching artists.

One Response to Great Big Love: The Story of a Song by Barbara McAfee

  1. Hello! Barbara here. I’ve heard from several people that they’d like to hear the song. I just put it up on my Facebook page using SoundCloud. Enjoy!

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