Hold my hand. The water is rising. We cannot swim, but we can drown holding hands. We can sing with mouths full of water. We are the choir and this is our song, “we loved too little” Or maybe that’s not quite right. Maybe that’s the wrong hymn. A few pages forward…here we go.
Hold my hand because we are suffering and this is what the sufferers do. We suffer together because to do so apart would be unbearable. We suffer together but far away. Across great distances. The vast expanses of the empty dining room table or a silent stairwell with no footsteps. It’s six am and we have been awake for hours again. On monitors and phone lines. We are the choir and the hymn we sing is “suffering”. This is our church and our church is grief. A church is supposed to be a place of solace. A place for the lost and the forgotten. To go to a church is to seek solace from burdens. Is grief a burden or is it the only building we have now? All four walls and a ceiling of grief. A stained glass window composed of fragments of grief, every point sharp. When we talk we talk past each other, we talk around heads clouded by anxiety and lack of sleep but we can sing our long goodbyes like summer afternoon shadows stretching down hot asphalt.
We can wave to the camera like we are blowing kisses to an audience into a firestorm. My friends in Colorado joked about playing the game “ash or snow?” Is it snow that is falling through the gray sky or ash? I miss the summer on the plastic table in the back with expensive whiskey and stray cats. I miss laughing until my stomach hurt. The antidote to pain is to make it funny. Unless it is too painful to be funny anymore. Then we still try even if we are too tired to laugh. Our laughter is choked by pain, it is our song. Our laughter is choked by exhaustion. The coughing sound is our song. Not every song is a pretty one. Some songs are ugly like the pain behind them. The objective of making is to hold a mirror up to human experiences, not to idealize or sanitize them but to present them for consideration. I hold up my broken heart. Here it is. It is a human heart it is not pretty. It bleeds.
My texts with my friend are about sounds. About music specifically. They are as much about holding on as they are about music. All of the sharing of music in the world is about holding on in one way or another. All of the worn-out mix-tapes and sharpied CDs accumulated for the sole human purpose of holding on or reaching out. It is a holy act to share your loves with others.
We share out of whatever love remains inside of us not because it is necessarily a rewarding endeavor to do so. Generally it only hurts. Our cumulative songs of suffering. All cut through by blasts of static and interference. How long has it been since I last saw you, friend? How long since I last heard your voice. It is always too long. The time together is always too short. It is too short and then it is gone, but I loved you and you loved me. It had weight. The love is here. It is recorded. It still exists until even the echo is forgotten. It is the old cassette tape in a small summer boombox when a stray basketball landed on the record button during Nirvana’s In Utero.
The depth of a voice is condensed on a cell phone call in a way that it was not in landlines. The lows are cut out which makes the voice on the other end sound tinnier. In sound, the bass is what gives the sound a feeling of presence. The bass is what you can physically feel in your chest. It moves through you. The reason that teenagers used to spend hours on the phone is that the voice on the other end had a presence, weight. The person sounded close. The sound was rich and full and felt more human. As a kid who spent years in a long-distance relationship, I can attest to the hours on the phone. The coiled cord stretched taut all the way across the floor so that I could hide in my room in the effort to understand a person that I never knew at all.
When you are younger you assume that everyone’s motives and intentions are obvious, that there are rational rhymes and reasons for the kinds of decisions that a person will make. We are never rational when it comes to desires, dreams, or love. In this we do harm, landslides, mountains, and endless crashing waves of harm. The gentle ones are the ones who see the harm that they have caused for what it is and have the integrity to call it harm. It is only with a careful awareness your own cumulative failings that you can come to have mercy upon the failings of others.
On the phone now, I am worried that I will take the speaking too lightly as if the thinness of the sound is indicative of its importance. I have said foolish things out of anger that I regret in a voice trimmed down to a wiry gray thread. It is a great responsibility to communicate well because it is so easy to communicate poorly these days, it is a tightrope-walking over broken glass and I am more reckless than I would like to be. The world feels too full of failure. It is up to the brim. One more mindless cruelty and the world might spill all over the table. A glass knocked over. A whole world brimming with cumulative failures.
You can talk to anyone anywhere but you can only hear part of them. All of the sufferings of the entire world are available twenty-four hours a day to people who struggle to keep even the closest of relationships intact. What do we expect of one another? In some some senses we never even know the people that we spent years growing up with.
When I was young I played the saxophone for half a year in junior high. I played Silent Night for a Christmas recital and that was it. I remember quitting that class because I had the misguided notion that the instrument rental was more expensive than it was and that I knew what my parents could afford at the time. I have no idea why I made that call in one specific instance that I didn’t make in others.
What remains? Is it ash or snow? What do you do with your exceedingly limited freedom? With whom will you share? Who will sing with us in our cumulative songs of suffering? The question is not whether or not you will suffer, but with whom you will share your suffering.
God, we are diminished and lonely and exhausted and the endless cruelty is deafening.
God who only works in weakness work in weakness. We don’t have any strength anymore.
God who sees all of the ways that we use the limited time in our free gift of life trying to determine all of the people we think shouldn’t be allowed to live then extends grace anyway. No matter how hard we try we cannot model this. We are not tiny Jesuses and thinking we are is what has landed us here. We are always slipping back into trying to be you because we loathe our own neediness for you. We hate receiving because we prefer deserving, we prefer entitlement. It feels good and less mysterious. How many foolish games have I got lost in this year? The angry vicious rants that well up from the desperate need to mitigate all of the pain which is the direct result of the fear and anger that I employ to respond to it.
The sun rises again. It feels like a bastard sometimes for having the audacity to do so, but it rises. Maybe the sun knows more than I do. Amen.
2 thoughts on “Sing While Drowning (A Lament)”
Levi, I love this. It is especially poignant for me now. Thank you for your heart.
Thanks George, I started it in the summer and forgot about it because I got stuck. I opened it the other night and decided to finish it because it felt more relevant. I’m glad that it found you.