The Waterboys, "This Is The Sea." This was the last song I heard on my headphones last night, before I dozed off on the porch with my book on the floor. I got in a car accident Thursday afternoon -- rear-ended on 94 in the rain -- and my wife gave me a muscle relaxant, which did me in. The last thing I remember is the utter transformative powers of this song, which I've written about before, but which last night took on a power bordering on the mystical.
Now I'm sitting here wondering for the first time if songs sometimes act as premonitions, or precursors to real thought and actions. For the past couple days I'd been thinking about how little philosophical effect the crash had on me. I had no ephiphany that made me want to cherish life more fully, and chalked up the non-reaction to being older and harder to impress, epiphany-wise.
Then I heard this song, which I've heard a hundred times, easily. It always gets me; I wish I'd heard it when I was 14. "That was a river," sings Mike Scott, about the past; "this is the sea," he sings, about the present and future -- yours, mine, ours -- and in its waves of awe it is sheerly and simultaneously hopeful, bouyant, and terrifying.
Then last night, as the devil-fiddle was fading out along with my consciousness, I heard Scott sing a line I'd never heard before:
"Behold the sea."
Behold the sea! It took my breath away; did I hear him right? He wasn't just celebrating the sea, he was insisting that I behold it. It unlocked something in me. It had always been a great live-in-the-moment power-of-now message, and a reminder of why I've always been drawn to water -- the infinity of the lakes, the creek, the ocean, the Mississippi River (water from which makes up 83 percent of all Twin Citians) -- but now it was a demand, coming from a wiseman, that hit me with as much force as a 55-mph car.
It also took me back to On A Clear Day, a beautiful British film about a middle-aged guy who drags his buddies along with him on his dream. He swims the English Channel, and the methodical approach he takes to his training will be recognizable to all Zen-types in the Twin Cities Marathon, whom I am with in envious spirit today.
Student: "I've achieved enlightenment, master. Now what?"
Master: "Chop wood and carry water."
Today I chopped wood and carried water. I dug weeds, cut the lawn, tore down the tire swing, cleaned the basement, picked up my daughter's friend (whose 12-person family lives in a house the size of an antfarm and are very likely not wrestling with questions of existentialism), went to the book and record store, and to the hardware store with my neighbor Pete, whom I recently met and started talking to about seeking, big questions, mysticism, history, and the freedom that comes with not having answers to anything.
All the while, I had KFAI-FM's Good and Country on the radio. It's the best thing about Saturday afternoons -- tooling around listening to all these obscure decades-old songs about love, death, murder, drinking, cheating, heartache, beauty, lust, good, evil, heaven, hell, gambling, friendship, lost love, found love, and everything else they haven't named yet, and realizing yet again how universal the human condition is.
And at the moment, I'm wondering if any of these unconnected dots would have been connected in my head had I not gotten whiplash, or heard Scott's order for me to "behold" the beauty of the world, or found this prayer waiting for me over the e-transom as I sat down to write tonight:
Pray for Peace
by Ellen Bass
Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the Bo tree in scorching heat,
Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekhina, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.
Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work.
On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus,
for everyone riding buses all over the world.
Drop some silver and pray.
Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.
To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray.
Bow down to terriers and shepherds and siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.
Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.
Making love, of course, is already prayer.
Skin, and open mouths worshipping that skin,
the fragile cases we are poured into.
If you're hungry, pray. If you're tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.
When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else's legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheel chair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:
less harm, less harm, less harm.
And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard
with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas--
With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.
Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.
Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your VISA card. Scoop your holy water
from the gutter. Gnaw your crust.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.