Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Self-Discography #16 :The Song You Can't Shake

I will let "When It Don't Come Easy" by Patty Griffin slip away into the back of my brain for months at a time. It lies dormant there, as if it's just waiting for the right sensory trigger to start playing again, like a radio that won't shut off.

On its surface, it's a beautifully wrought ballad about love and strength--the power of a relationship between any two people loyal to each other. In the layers that reveal themselves each time I find it again, I find myself wondering, "Is this about only one relationship?" "Is this about how misguided this country has become?" "Is this something for two friends to share between themselves only?"

The best songs to lay dormant in your head are those that can't be categorized. You know and understand the language, but the interpretation? Well, now, that's a story unto itself.

"Everywhere the water's getting rough/Your best intentions may not be enough."

The year after I first heard this song, I watched as my long-term relationship slowly disintegrated and I made the decision to quit my job of seven years. I felt like I wasn't taking part in any of it at the time. So blocked off from my own emotions, I just saw both events as something that needed to be done, to be endured. Before I quit my job, I'd find myself walking to work, listening to this in the early morning sun. I needed the mixture of peacefulness and sadness it gave me. I needed the reminder that even though all of this was happening now, it would have to be all right at some point, some time. Right? I asked myself that one word question a lot. I never seemed to know the answer in the moment, as I, indeed, felt as if I was on a small boat surrounded by towering waves. All I had were intentions. To get through. To carve some kind of path. To feel again. I stopped listening again for a spell and found the song again later, after the job was gone...after the relationship ended. The water in my head now? Calm.

"So many things that I had before, they don't matter to me now."

I think of this line when I climb up to the top of Griffith Park, when I drive through the desert, when I throw myself in the ocean in the summer heat or see the poppies bloom. What do I need besides these moments with the people I want to be surrounded with? Do I really need more things? Do I need more stuff? Will that make me happier?


I refrain from going all hippie about it--I rarely say it aloud in such a way, after all--but I can't base my happiness on TV, on acquisitions, on tangible objects and tools that are somehow supposed to bring that to me. I need the ephemeral, the flashes of moments, the minute to look around me and simply stop for a second. I need songs to fall madly in love with for the days here during which I get to see this, experience that, and watch others do the same.

"If you break down, I'll drive out and find you/If you forget my love, I try to remind you."

This song has come back to me again right now. For the last few weeks, I've played it as I left weekly training sessions I am attending to become a volunteer with a hospice organization. I am embarking on this because of a mixture of personal experiences and a strong belief in the way people should be treated. I was prepared to be challenged in an entirely new way--to see how I can actually utilize my compassion. It has always seemed something I knew I possessed yet could never find it and share it the way I wanted.

As I left each training session, with more and more information in my head--with a fuller understanding of the very small things I can do that may be perceived as remarkable--I found myself overwhelmed. I could have never had this same awareness at 13 when my father died, at 25 when my stepsister passed away, or at 27 when I lost a very good friend suddenly. It seemed only now that it was possible. The end of the first session I burst into tears as I pulled out of the parking garage and this came on my iPod. It was back. And I needed it.

Each successive week, the tears threatened to come, but I soon realized they weren't about being angry or sad. There was some fear--fear of what might happen to me when I get older (Would I have my family and friends to rally around and help?). There was also a desire to be able to help people whom I'd not thought much about before (Can I be a comfort and something they need?).

As this latest journey starts, I feel like I am looking around for someone to point in a direction and tell me that this is the way I need to go. But that's not true, is it? It's just easier to do what someone else says. I don't think the individuals I am about to meet are going to be doing any finger pointing. I don't think they want a map, either. Maybe they just want me to sit next to them and not say a word. Maybe they want to hear a story about something from my life. And maybe, just maybe, one will simply want to hear a song and remember something from his or her life.