After my husband’s memorial service, a friend left me a note to listen to Jon Foreman‘s, The House of God, forever. I was later given his Winter album, a listening experience rich in meaningful tracks about death and dying. There were two songs from this album, plus a single, I would play over and over again, trying to absorb every acoustic and lyrical nutrient.
The single, called The Cure for Pain, begins this way, “…I’m not sure why it always flows downhill. Why broken cisterns never could stay filled. I’ve spent ten years singing gravity away, but the water keeps on falling from the sky. And here tonight while the stars are blacking out, with every hope and dream I’ve ever had in doubt, I’ve spent ten years trying to sing these doubts away, but the water keeps on falling from my eyes.”
The verse flows into the chorus, beckoning, “…heaven knows, I tried to find a cure for the pain. Oh my Lord! To suffer like you do, it would be a lie to run away.”
The tone is one of acknowledging the brokenness, the fallibleness, of life. Foreman faces the gravitational reality of pain that exists, that will always be lingering, waiting to interrupt what is lovely and seemingly whole. Like any one with a fixer mentality, he admits he’s tried to change that reality, to “find a cure for this pain.” Who, after all, would choose to be subjected to it?
I can not cure the problem of pain any more than Foreman can. “Oh my Lord! To suffer like you do, it would be a lie to run away” is a pivotal line. For me, to turn away from the only One who can cure this pain, is to live believing the facade that I can keep the broken cistern full. But the Messiah suffered all so that I could rise above the gravitation law of sin.
I listen to this song on repeat because I connect with Foreman’s sentiments. I relate to the notion of wanting to maintain a level of perfection, or completion, but it’s futile. The rhythm of life is not set to a metronome. It is not predictable like that. It is a rhapsody, maintained by a free-style drum. The beat changes, new patterns emerge and old ones fade away. New life songs begin in the middle of the symphony of life already in play while other masterpieces are silenced and forgotten.
When a new song enters my life, literally, and metaphorically like meeting someone new, or rekindling an old friendship, I like to see where the new songs will go. When I fall in love with the tune, how my chemistry works with another’s, how it connects, sometimes causes me to get locked in, making me want to leave the song on repeat. After singing the same song for a while I learn what to expect, how to move, how to mime the lyrics, or belt them out loud. Then suddenly the track shifts, and I’m annoyed because I don’t want it to change when I’m finally finding my groove.
My daughter has become the same way. Like any child, she thrives off of repetition, and routine. If she is used to seeing Grandma once every two weeks, and then it’s been three, she notices. She knows when someone has skipped a beat. She gets ansy and restless. She doesn’t want the song to change, but at two she already knows it can. Her and I are the same in this way. We don’t just think water might fall from the sky, as Foreman puts it. We know it will, because we’ve already been drenched by one downpour.
Now, any variation from the norm leaves us holding our breath. Is this it? Are we transitioning to the chorus, or switching to a completely new song? Perhaps my focus should be less on one melody, and more on the album’s overall compilation. The coming and going of people in my life is like the introduction of a new instrument. Sometimes a new instrument comes in while others continue to play. Sometimes the instrument leads a solo, while all others fade away.
Foreman’s Learning how to Die, begins,
“I’m gonna miss you. I’m gonna miss you when you’re gone. She says, ‘I love you. I’m gonna miss hearing your songs’
And I said, ‘Please, don’t talk about the end. Don’t talk about how every living thing goes away’
She said, ‘Friend, all along I thought I was learning how to take, how to bend not how to break, how to live not how to cry. But really I’ve been learning how to die.’”
When my husband died it became clear to me there are few things that last. Our bodies return to dust, all material possessions are left behind. Even my life’s work might change course when I am no longer there to direct it. As the Preacher of Ecclesiastes 5:15 says, “As he came from his mother’s womb, naked shall he return, to go as he came; and he shall take nothing from his labor, which he may carry away in his hand.” In short, naked we come, and naked we go, so what are we living, and dying for?
Since I will take nothing with me, learning how to die has become a journey of learning how to let go.
“God is my shepherd. I won’t be wanting, I won’t be wanting. He makes me rest, in fields of green, with quite streams. Even though I walk through the valley of death and dying, I will not fear, ’cause you are with me. You are with me.”
I used to be terrified of dying. I still struggle with any change in tempo, or the ending of my favourite song, but that is how life is. It is full of endings, and new beginnings. My fear came from the unknown, and feeling that I would never be ready for that final act. Please don’t take me now! I would plead with God as I drove down an icy road, or felt turbulence while flying in the air.
I didn’t understand the mentality of individuals who desired to be on the other side of this life more than their desire to be here. Now I look at that journey with a famished curiosity.
I want to let the song move where it might, to enjoy melodies from each exposition, before releasing them.
For one can only truly hold on to that which lasts beyond death. It is not about latching on to the cello, or the horn. It is about enjoying the instruments, finding harmony in the part I get to play, and ultimately focusing on the Conductor who will lead me in a solo through the final act, through the valley of death and dying, and into the house of God, forever.