The Odometer

I always hate this evening.  The eve before the odometer turns over another digit.  I thought by this number, I’d have arrived to..  somewhere.  Of course, I said that last year…  and the year before.  

Almost every year for the last 15+ years, I have escaped to Sainte Genevieve on this day.  It was mostly to prevent my family from trying a surprise party thing.  I am not good at those anymore (not sure I ever was).  You see, for many years, I refused to celebrate my day of birth. As some of you may know, I tend to struggle with guilt and worthlessness quite a bit. This weekend always reminds me more of what I have not done than what I have.  It always seemed disingenuous for me to celebrate this.

In the end, I realize that the circumspect nature of aging is an emotional experience for us all.  

Some of my favorite musicians differ wildly on it:

John Denver sang:

I’ve been lately thinking about my life’s time
All the things I’ve done and how it’s been
And I can’t help believing in my own mind
I know I’m gonna hate to see it end…

The days they pass so quickly now, nights are seldom long
And time around me whispers when it’s cold
Changes somehow frighten me, still I have to smile
It turns me on to think of growing old

My God , I loved John Denver so much.    He may be the only positive and happy lyricist that truly resonates within me.  He made the world seem so beautiful and worthwhile.  And sometimes I can just escape into the innocent landscape of his songs.  But he never got the chance to grow old. 

On the other hand, Pink Floyd sang:

And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun

And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun
But it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way
But you’re older
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter
Never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught
Or half a page of scribbled lines

Hanging on in quiet desperation
Is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over
Thought I’d something more to say

I identify far more with Pink Floyd.   Pink Floyd recognizes the reality of this world.  There is no need to paint it as some kind of benign, innocent place.  It is dark and unholy.  It’s a slow lulling to a deeply unsatisfying sleep where one wakes to fits of failure and regret.  But, it is the common disease for much of humanity.  

Short of some higher power and a doctrine of faith and hope, the futility of this moment in time that is called “me” would be the ultimate (as Solomon put it) vanity.

In the end, I feel like surrendering is my best course. This higher power…  this Triune God…  created the moment “me”.  Sure, I always wind up deciding this. But maybe this year it will be true.  

Steve Taylor wrote “life unwinds like a cheap sweater, but since I gave up hope, I feel a lot better.” We cultivate hope based on our perspective. Unfortunately, my cynicism finds John Denver’s perspective unrealistic.  But my soul finds Pink Floyd’s to be crushing.  In my mind, that leaves:


The great Leonard Cohen penned these brilliant lyrics: 

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before

I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you

From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice

Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And to draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light

In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will
If it be your will

Isn’t this ultimately what Solomon decided? The world and everything in it is vanity…  a chasing after the wind.  The only thing that matters according to him:

But beyond these, my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands (surrender), because this is for all humanity. “ – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

I love Leonard Cohen’s line about our “rags of light”.  I can’t speak to exactly Mr Cohen was thinking when he wrote that line, but I like to think of my feelings of guilt and worthlessness as the rags set alight by the Almighty. If it be Your will…  I must surrender to it.  Only then will there be meaning for this moment called “me”. After that, maybe I’ll learn to focus less on what I have not done. Who knows, maybe I’ll do something.