It’s been a week, no?
I just learned that a friend of a friend has passed away, a man with a brilliant mind in a broken body. I’d met him only a few times, but my friend could barely speak of the disease that had chewed through his friend’s life before the man had even reached 35.
There are no glib comments that can counteract the pain of death, of losing someone in their prime of life.
This is tender ground for many people, and well-meaning folks rush to make themselves feel better about grief and sorrow by pasting a platitude atop the pain: “At least he didn’t suffer.” “Well, maybe he’s in a better place now.”
At these moments, in the silence, we must stare into this void and face the deepest questions of our existence. Religious or agnostic, brave or terrified, we humans cannot escape the truth that our lives are short and uncertain.
A time to die – and a time to feel
I love the “time” poem in Ecclesiastes 3, made so famous by the Byrds in one of the most earworm tunes of the 20th century. There’s a time for everything under the sun. Figuring out what’s appropriate to when is an outgrowth of wisdom. The Preacher goes on to say that God makes everything beautiful (or fitting, appropriate) in its time.
I appreciate Ecclesiastes more in middle age for its brutal honesty. The speaker brings up problem after problem of life: it’s unfair; rich people get all the perks by stomping on poor people; rich people still die and someone else gets all their hard-earned wealth (which bugged him, since he was pretty rich). He wonders about the point of life, since we’re all just dead at the end. If this is how the whole thing turns out, what makes life better for me than for a baby who died stillborn? At least the baby didn’t have to deal with all the shit of this life.
Ecclesiastes is so bleak at times that most Christians are highly uncomfortable with the book. They act like God must’ve made an oversight by letting it into the canon. Surely it’s here just to show us how “worldly” people think, right?
Faith is no excuse for thoughtlessness or cowardice. This life throws questions at us that we cannot hope to answer. Why do good people die young? Why do evil men prosper? Why don’t some people give a shit that life is so bad for other people?
Music as a channel for what we cannot say
Look, I know this isn’t rocket surgery insight here: when I can’t put words to the badness or to the beauty or to the sadness or to the fear, I can feel it through music. I can play it out with my fingers on the keys of a piano. I can click Play on the tracks below, close my eyes, and let the sounds wash over me.
There have often been times I could not even understand the emotions or name them. I just knew that I felt, and it was a place to begin.
I composed about 6 different posts for this blog over the course of last week’s media circus around the Kavanaugh hearings. I’m angry. I’m tired.
I need a place where my soul can rest and find respite before heading back into the mess.
After a while, it’s tempting to shut off the spigot. I mean, I’m writing this right now instead of doing the project I really need to work on, because I decided it was more important to mourn the loss of a person than to plow through my day as if nothing had happened. I made a conscious choice to feel instead of turning off that sense of loss for my friend who grieves.
There is a time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to feel.
Feel with me today
If you’d like to channel a few feelings with me today, whatever you’re feeling, here are a few of my favorites:
Chanticleer sings Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” with the US Naval Academy men’s glee chorus. You’ll have to crank the sound, but it’s worth it. I cried from the sheer beauty of this when I first heard it sung live by Chanticleer in performance at Clemson University:
Another from Chanticleer, but it’s easier to find this one on Apple Music or Spotify. I adore about half of the tracks on Chanticleer’s album Wondrous Love (listen on Apple Music, Amazon). Put everything aside, find a pair of headphones, and listen to them sing the old Scots tune “Loch Lomond.” Don’t miss the last 6 chords–I don’t care if the building is burning down around you.
Next up is a track you’ll have to find on one of the streaming services – I’ll provide links below – because it’s not on YouTube. The band is composed of friends of mine, and I think this is possibly the best song they wrote. The entire album is fantastic (IMO) but this song in particular.
And finally, a word about the track I led with for this post. For personal reasons, this song is deeply associated with grief over the loss of a young person. Underoath is a hardcore band (read: yes, there’s some screaming) who used to matter about 15 years ago. (Sorry, Underoath, if you’re still out there.) Their music isn’t amazing to me, but this song is burned into my emotional circuits for its lyrics and for the way it builds to a MOMENT of intense emotion. The singer continues with lyrics about faith and grace and mercy while the screamer yells JESUS I’M READY TO COME HOME (if this were a dubstep track, it would be the “drop” moment). Truly, there are days when I’m just ready to come Home.
Oh sweet angel of mercy
With your grace like the morning
Wrap your loving arms around me
Hey unfaithful I will teach you To be stronger
Hey ungraceful I will teach you To forgive one another
Hey unfaithful I will teach you To be stronger
Hey unloving I will love you
And will love you
Jesus I’m ready to come home …
I will love you