Sunday, November 08, 2009

How the Light Gets In

Woke with Leonard Cohen running through my mind:

Ring the bells that still will ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

The songwriters I'm growing old with: Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan. I like to think of my life as having had dramatic turns -- from antisocial to social, from atheist to buddhist, from anarchist to conservative, and so forth -- but when I look at the singer-songwriters that first caught my imagination, and still can, I realize that really I've been much more all of a piece than I think. The same themes run through it all: loneliness; longing for God; wanderlust; love of the down and outs, the odd men out, the beautiful losers. The beauty in the breakdown. The refusal to endorse sanitized packaged quality-controlled materialism; the refusal to say that all suffering is deserved and all beauty is up for sale. The conviction that it's not a feast unless everyone's invited, even the awkward ones who can't stay sober and haven't had a bath this year. It's all there from the start. I haven't changed that much.

The world around me has changed. It's filled up with love and understanding. I feel seen and held and appreciated to a degree that would have been inconceivable to me when I was thirteen years old, listening to the stereo in the dark at 2:00 am. I had listened to the songs so many times that I could play them at a bare whisper in the living room, and hear them at full volume and in full detail in my mind's ear, without the risk of waking anyone. I'd fall asleep sometimes on the floor in front of the stereo, and wake up stiff and chilled with dawn trickling through the eastern windows. It was poetry, poetry and music, keeping me alive. The only connection with other human beings -- though I'd never met them and never would -- that seemed real enough to bother with. They kept the thread from snapping through that long spiritual and emotional poverty.

There's no way to thank them, except to lift up the song again. But I don't think they want anything else from us.

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