"I’ve been wearing all black since the day it started…"
With that very first line, from the very first track on Jenny Lewis’ new album, something starts to ring familiar to me, and I am on the verge of being a sobbing mess. By the time she closes the first verse with “I’m not the same woman that you were used to,” I know exactly what she’s talking about it, even though she doesn’t actually talk about what “it” is.
She’s singing about what happens after the passing of someone close and how it changes a person. It changed me when my father passed away three years ago. I thought I was okay right after his passing. We had 17 months leading up to his passing, knowing exactly what the outcome would be, and I used that time to try to come to terms with it. Six months after he passed, however, and I was not okay with it. I felt hardened, unsure of who this new person was inside of me, wanting to reach out to others but mostly unwilling and partly unable to really communicate what changes had occurred.
And it wasn’t just about my father’s passing, it was about mortality in general. How do we do this every day knowing it’s all going to end? Why do we think we’re going to live forever when that’s clearly not the case? Death is a part of life. It’s unavoidable. So, why was this fact of life such a one-two knockout punch to me?
I was bedridden for almost a month, crippled with all these existential questions, before I finally got tired of my own stench and decided that even though I didn’t have all the answers to life, the answer that made the most sense is just to live my own life the best I can. It sounds simple but when you’re faced with momentous changes in life, sometimes the simplest things can be forgotten.
To hear this recited as a chorus is affirming and means so much to me at this point in my life. Not every day is a great day but I try my best and I’m not alone.
A couple weeks after 9/11, Ani DiFranco started performing an early version of this poem, which she decided was finished once she’d performed it in New York City the recording of which I posted above (not to be that guy, but I was there). 18-year-old me had a touch of that very typical post-9/11 jingoism, and I remember thinking it was powerful but way over the top. Listening now, it’s still a little rough around the edges, but it’s clear that she had the right perspective. It’s amazing how in hindsight fringe voices can turn out to have been right all along.
This is relevant today as we on the Left in America (myself included) are rallying to reelect Barack Obama. It’s clear after the convention that jingoism is back in fashion now that our guy is the Tough Guy. Sure, the Big Bad Guy is dead now, but everything else that’s going on in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and god knows where else isn’t something any American can be proud of. Still, most of the time when I mention the word “drones,” the responses I get include “picky,” “unrealistic” and “you need to sober up.” But this stuff matters. It’s not hard to imagine a new Osama preying upon men whose sons and daughters were blown to pieces by American machines in the sky.
I post this on 9/12 instead of 9/11, which has become a day of solemn reflection on one’s own mundane experience of the most extraordinary events of our lives thus far, because what happens the day after matters even more. This 9/12 has seen the drums of war beaten by all the usual drummers, and blind hatred of Muslims and Arabs and South Asians of all religions is reaching a fever pitch. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We didn’t have a choice in what happened on 9/11. But we have a choice on 9/12.
Emphasis mine. People have no problem never forgetting what happened on 9/11 but they seem to have forgotten why it happened, and what drove people to have such hatred for this country.
(And not to be that guy too, but I was also there.)