There are little mantras we give ourselves in this life. For me, it has long been the above bit. Because I am human and I have struggled more than one too many times in my life with the imperfection that implies. Because uncertainty is inherent in any pursuit. Because worries for my own small ego have often given resistance to aspirations to do greater good. Or even lesser, more selfish good.
There are things we can count on in life. Uncertainty, for one. Loss, for another. Change always. And for all the cracks, it is inevitable that light will fill in the spaces.
As a species, we have a great fondness for a diametrical approach to things. It’s an attempt to forge order on the chaos, I suppose. For better or worse.
In the twenty years I have loved my husband, I have seen him cry twice. The first time was in awe and admiration the night Barack Obama was first elected. My husband is a Libertarian, so it was not necessarily a political victory for him, but it was a human victory. A moment in history we were blessed to see.
The second time was last night when we learned Leonard Cohen had died.
Tears are a strange thing, especially for men; they contain entire multitudes and microcosms. They are chemically composed of one thousand unnameable, intangible things. A distillation of all our loves and fears, triumphs, losses.
We do not honor them enough.
The first Leonard Cohen song I ever heard was “Everybody Knows” on the Pump Up The Volume soundtrack. I was probably 15. Man, I loved that movie. I was young and secure enough to see my privileges as a suburban teenager as stifling injustices. I was waiting for the world to begin. I even had the black and white striped tights like Samantha Mathis to pair with my Doc Martins in decidedly fashionably unfashionable design.
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Sometime last week, I turned 40. A lot has happened since then, but I measure the time in music. Leonard Cohen was twenty-five of my years in tea and oranges and towers of song.
One of the first gifts my husband ever gave me was a copy of Cohen’s novel Beautiful Losers. I couldn’t get into it. Perhaps because to me, Cohen was a musician- A poet. Or perhaps it is because I was 22. Perhaps I would like it more now. I’ve kept it all these years. It’s funny how it happens, but we become more than one person over the decades.
I’m not the same girl who wore jail striped tights and purple boots. Nor the one who first unwrapped a book from a love who was just a boy back then. Nor the one who watched Leonard on Austin City Limits with that boy a few years later, laughing hysterically over how putrid “Jazz Police” was. It’s funny that these two examples first to rise from my memory are the two works of Cohen’s that I didn’t like. I imagine this is only because everything else he ever wrote braided itself so comfortingly, so perfectly related into my history, the strands are harder to free. The Suzannes and Sisters of Mercies on long summer nights.
The cold and broken Hallelujahs.
Leonard Cohen had the gift of writing his own Requiem. As hard as that is, it’s impressively profound. In You Want it Darker, he intoned
If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame
Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker
I’m ready, my lord
Hineni is Here I Am in Hebrew. I had to look that up when the album came out weeks back.
There is much to say about the state of things and there is little I am qualified to say about it. I could pretend but I believe the only thing that has the power to mend this country are ears and empathy for all, and it’s too soon to say such a thing. It may always be too soon because human nature is a strange diametric animal. I could write how I hope we teach our children the logical fallacies, because to navigate this world, they’re going to need to learn to spot and disarm them. I could write how in times so mired in uncertainty and discord, the loss of a familiar voice cuts deeply. Though the gift of music is legacy. Of summer nights and kitchen dancing until we too are out of the game.
All I can really say is there is no shortage of cracks for the light to fill.
Don’t ever underestimate the light. Don’t ever be afraid to bring it.