Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Eleventh Noel: The Head and the Heart


There's no such thing as love
There's no such thing as God
There's no such thing as you
There's no such thing as us
And tell me friends
When I'm down
Would you pick me up

Lord help me right all of the wrongs that I have done
I never meant to do
Lord help me right all of the wrongs that I have done
You know I've done a few

Jenny and I were talking about The Head and the Heart tonight. That's a band we saw this summer. We went to Niagra Falls the next day and got soaked. And laughed and screamed and drove home.

Anyway, we were listening to this song on their album. And I asked, intellectually poking around, "What? They don't believe in God?" 

She shrugged and said, "I don't know."  Then she thought I was going to go crazy about that or something, so she said, "Well wait a minute, it's a song, and you sometimes write songs where you say things that aren't exactly . . . ." And so on. 

I said, "yeah, that's why I'm asking." And I could have said, as we had talked about before, it's like an unreliable narrator. Songwriters and writers in general create characters whose lives, thoughts, words, may or may not be equal to their own in order to make a point. 

What I did say was, "I think it means they do believe in God, unless they also don't believe in us or in love or in you, whoever that is." We then spent the rest of the drive home from the Colt game listening more carefully to the lyrics, so we didn't continue the conversation. But I might have pointed out the later part of the song in which the narrator asks the "Lord" (whatever or whoever is meant by that) to help him right the wrongs he's done. 

Mostly we both liked the song, but I wanted her to see at least one of the reasons I liked it. 

I wonder if there is also a suggestion in the lyrics of something like this. "There's no such thing" as God, love, you, or us in the abstract. But only in relation and relationship. Or, more sensibly put (because, deep down, I think it's crazy to think things don't actually exist except in relation to me), it doesn't really matter, practically speaking,  to me, to us, whether these things exist or not, even if they do. What matters, finally, is whether you will pick me up when I'm down. Or, more fully, whether God or love or you will pick me up. And whether I will pick you up.

I could be wrong. Of course, I think I'm right or I wouldn't have said it. But I'm willing to be wrong. Still, the important question is this, my friend: when I'm down, would you pick me up? 

I have a friend who's starting on her fourth step of A.A. That's the "searching and fearless moral inventory" step. That's some heavy stuff. As you no doubt know, I'm very very holy, so holy that I was reading the morning prayer from Book of Common Prayer this morning while running on the machine (that is just SO holy). And I came to the confession. The part about, "I have not done the things I should do and I have done the things I shouldn't do" (my paraphrase). So true. So true. 

Forgive us Lord. But more than that, help us "right all the wrongs we've done," as The Head and the Heart puts it. After all, it's the Eleventh Day of Christmas. Maybe the Twelfth, depending on where you live. It's not too late to make things right. It's not too early either. There is no better time. The pipers are piping, so listen to them if you don't believe me.

Like the bad church signs say, Wise men still . . . admit that they aren't so wise. Strong people admit that they are weak. The best people are those who know how bad they can be. And sometimes it takes a long journey-- twelve steps, or around the world following a star, or eleven days of Christmas, or thirty minutes on "the machine"--to see things clearly and to try to make things better. 

My brother called me last night. NO, not that brother. Noel won't be calling me any time soon, although I do have his last text. "Yeah" was all it said. I had asked him if it were true that the doctors were going  back in to take out his new hip which had become the site of infection. "Yeah," he said. They did. Noel almost died during that operation, and he never really recovered. 

But, I mean my other brother, Gordon. He was having a hard day. Without Noel. Without Sonia, his beloved Giant Schnauzer who died just two weeks after Noel did. And, I think, because I hadn't been able to come down for Christmas as I did last year. As we spoke, he also gave me some advice about some things. Loving advice about love. And stuff like that. Trying, I think, to help me be a better person. I appreciate it. I need all the help that I can get. 

He said he was just having a hard time, and he wanted to hear my voice. Which leads me to this. One thing I regret, one thing I didn't do that I should have (sin of omission), was stay in touch with Noel better these last years. I had plenty of reasons. After all, he was in New Jersey and I was in Indiana. He was busy with his kids and mine were mostly out of the house. He was . . . .  Really, I can't imagine now why I didn't. I certainly can't justify it. Lord, help me right the wrong I've done. On the other hand, it sort of seems like it's too late for that, doesn't it? 

But is it? Ever? Gordon is still here. And Missy. And Noel's wife and kids. And lots of other people. I won't insult you by making a generic list. Just look around you. And inside.

It's the Eleventh Day. The Eleventh Hour, so to speak. That speaks of time. Nearing conclusion. Wrapping things up. But not yet. Not quite yet. 

Finally, these ideas from the song and from the fourth step and from my own life, remind me of Anne Tyler's novel, Saint Maybe. It's about a guy who makes mistakes. Call them sins, if you want (he does eventually). So then, he starts going to The Church of the Second Chance where he learns to do his own fearless moral inventory, so to speak. And he decides to spend the rest of his life discovering how to make things right. And doing so. 

I recommend that book. And I recommend The Head and the Heart. I also recommend staying in touch with your brothers and sisters. And reading The Book of Common Prayer while running on the machine (then you too can be holy, but I will still be holier than thou, having done it first).

Goodnight. Here's a link to a live in Philly version of the song, My Friends.

Merry Christmas, again. 


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