Today’s Awful Truth is that I really, really cannot listen to Leonard Cohen. I don’t get the fascination with him. I can’t stand the sound of his voice, and I think he sounds nauseatingly faux-earnest and pretentious. And yet, these lyrics to a song I had never heard have been on my mind almost daily, since about a year ago, when I saw the words somewhere, bouncing around the internet and into my consciousness by chance.
One time, in the middle of January, I finally looked up the song and listened to it in my car. I thought it would be life-changing. It would be my new theme song. It would resonate with me and surround me with the glow of some special something or other.
But what happened instead was that the self-important, low-pitched warbling was just too much. I almost hit a tree on River Avenue, from trying to turn it off while driving in snow. I mean it–it was horrible. I was so disappointed. How could two lines of lyrics have such an impact on me, and the song be so unbearable?
But I digress.
Not since discovering, during a blizzard in early 2015, that, Yes, I actually LOVE
Green Eggs and Ham Tom Petty–have I encountered something that took my breath away like this. Something that made me stop and think, Oh yeahhh, this is everything. So much expressed in so few words.
I know a thing or two about a perfect offering. I think a lot of us do. One might say that my adult life has been one big, long, drawn out IMperfect offering, of everything I could offer. As if, on some subconscious level, that would inoculate me. As if it would protect my children from everything, real and imagined, that could and would threaten them. As if homemade baby food and tofu-dogs, PBS and being there for everything would mean that the autism spectrum, mistreatment by others, and home-grown terrorism wouldn’t come for them. As if anything I did would protect me from adult versions of the same.
And I rang the bells, even when there was barely a bell to be rung. With a vengeance. I decorated that tree, and parked by empty railroad tracks at midday and waited, just in case a train came by to make my LittleMan’s day. I watched church plays, soccer practices, long examinations of acorns and bugs–and fell asleep while reading memorized bedtime books. And maybe they will someday tell me that they remember some of those things, and that those things worked their way into their muscle memory and emotional fiber, and created some lasting peace and warmth and certainty that their mother loved them so very much. But those things protected them from nothing, because when the cracks outnumber the offerings, sometimes nothing we can do matters.
My superpower is my abundance of cracks. I know how to let the light in.
I let it in, in spite all of the things that conspire to snuff my light out–daily life, the human condition, and the more direct attacks on my spirit, you know the drill. And when the light doesn’t come pouring in by itself, I create it, in any way that I can. And I bring it to others, sometimes in small, insignificant ways, as much as I can. I know, from the times I have lapsed in this effort, that if you don’t let the light get in, then the terrorists win.
Read this carefully: you* will not snuff me out.
The light is a wee dog who pops up in the window when he hears my keys, runs to meet me at the door, stays by my side and is nothing but love and more love.
It is Sasha at the nail salon, who can be trusted to choose the color, and who will also talk about how much she loved Of Mice and Men, and how Curley’s wife was a ho anyway.
It is a class Dean who sends a personalized birthday card, who catches kids and picks them up when they fall, and who is the real deal when she refers to the school “family.”
It is the Christmas food and the music and shouting in my multicultural workplace (the Jewish folks think THEY have Eight Crazy Nights, but I’m here to tell you that the Dominicans don’t stop from Thanksgiving through New Years)–and it’s the crazy Eid-celebrating in summertime, among people finding community in their new country.
It is covering The Boy’s forehead with kisses while he’s asleep and not protesting.
It is hearing a violin lesson through an open window as I walk the dog (bonus: it was TWO young violin students, playing a very simple duet of La Bamba).
It is a defiant, two-foot Christmas tree, covered with lights.
It is is friends with whom one look says everything, and triggers a good laughing jag. It is friends I haven’t seen in years, with whom one word or shared photo online says everything and you know just what they mean.
It is homemade granola, minestrone, braciole, and the mastery of something new in the kitchen.
It is the music on early Sunday mornings when only I am awake.
It is remembering all of the various nicknames that old friends and family have given me, and laughing at the new nicknames that I’ve acquired more recently.
It is meeting a cousin for the first time (that we remember) and feeling like he’s an old friend.
It is overhearing my two babies, laughing and laughing at a rerun of a long-ago children’s TV show, and remembering every word.
It is hearing things about my kids from other people, and seeing them as others see them.
Thankfully, I only made it through about half of Anthem before turning it off, so I can remember these few lines (as I do, daily), without it being tainted by the funeral dirge of his singing. This couple of lines by Leonard Cohen, who I just probably undeservedly slammed, but to whom I give due credit for his superpower. Cohen is the peanut butter, banana, green superfood, raw-egg-added, with some chia seeds thrown in, protein shake of songwriters. Not pleasurable in any way, but really good for you.
Ring the bells that still can ring. They ain’t going to ring themselves.
*Disclaimer: If you are reading this, I meant the collective “you,” above. But if you either mean me harm, or have enough ego or paranoia to think I’m referring directly to you, then yeah, I am.
**The name of the painting is Celebration 9, by Ray Caram. The photo here does not do it justice.