- A Story In Song (Part 1—Tom Waits)
- A Story In Song (Part 2—Kings of Leon)
- A Story In Song (Part 3—Ben Harper)
- A Story In Song (Part 4—Amos Lee)
- A Story In Song (Part 5—Blind Pilot)
- A Story In Song (Part 6—Right Away, Great Captain!)
- A Story In Song (Part 7—Amos Lee)
- A Story In Song (Part 8—Ray LaMontagne)
- A Story In Song (Part 9—Janis Joplin)
- A Story In Song (Part 10—Peter Bradley Adams)
- A Story In Song (The End)
I have a story in my book Pieces Like Pottery—”The Gravesite: The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery”—in which I experimented with a number of different literary devices. More and more readers have begun to notice one of the devices more regularly.
In addition to breaking the story up into ten sections, each of which follows one of the themes from the fifth sorrowful mystery, each section in the story also has a song that is paired with it. Yes, you read that right. I paired a song with each section. Like a fine wine paired with a good meal, the song’s lyrics are intended not only to add another layer of meaning to the words, but can also be listened along with that section of the story.
While more and more readers have been picking up on this, it’s certainly not an easy task for the casual reader, especially not one reading the print version of the book. I’ve promised to do this for quite awhile, so here you go. In ten parts, here is “The Gravesite: The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery” paired with each song.
(For those of you that might be interested in how this section ties into the fifth sorrowful mystery, the fifth sorrowful mystery is The Crucifixion and the “spiritual fruit” is the Pardoning of Injuries. Part 2 reflects the theme of Jesus’ quote, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Some of you have asked about that, so there you go.)
If you missed Part 1, go start from the beginning! Enjoy!
The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery
Mike and Lisa had been married twenty-three years, long enough to fall in and out of love at least a dozen times. Their relationship had gone through some real rocky times, but they’d always stayed together. For better and worse, right?
Three years into the marriage they hit a terribly rocky time. In retrospect, it was young twenty-somethings being stubborn and small-minded, but at the time it nearly broke them entirely. They separated for a short period, but they eventually worked things out. The phrasing in this particular case—worked things out—was about as apt as could be, Lisa thought. It took a lot of hard work from both of them.
That third year of their marriage was hell. Lisa could remember how she refused to speak with Mike about anything. She wouldn’t budge. It was the only time that she could remember when Mike’s soft demeanor had turned cold and angry. His usually kind and soft heart closed off. Finally they agreed, before they went their separate ways, they would try marriage counseling. It wasn’t an easy experience for either of them—each session with their “marriage therapist” seemed more painful and less productive, but something kept them coming back.
There was no breakthrough session that had revived everything they’d once had. There was no romantic moment that reignited the passion in their marriage and helped them realize they would be together forever. This wasn’t the movies. Romantic comedies are meant for Saturday nights, not for Tuesday morning arguments as a marriage teeters on the brink of divorce. Mike and Lisa slowly worked to allow themselves to be vulnerable again. They both opened up and shared how insecure and insignificant they felt at times in the marriage. Then after months, the love, so to speak, seemed to return. They had worked things out, as the saying goes.
If a specific moment was needed to commemorate the renewal of their love, there had been an unexceptional Wednesday months into the process of giving their marriage one last try. Lisa had always thought that this was a funny way to look at things—one last try. She always believed that each decision she made would build one upon the other to create the fabric of what she now cared about. For her one try, whether it was the first or the last, had never actually accomplished anything.
On this particular Wednesday, Lisa knew how stressed Mike had been with work, so she left the office early. It felt like a laborious task because of all the pain she had built up inside, but she was determined. She went to the dry cleaners to pick up the suits he needed for a business trip the next week. She planned to go to the bank to make some deposits for him and then the grocery store to pick up ingredients for a special dinner she wanted to cook. As she neared the bank, however, she noticed they had given her the wrong dry cleaning.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” she said out loud in her car.
Lisa turned around to drive all the way back across town. The afternoon traffic was beginning to thicken. It seemed everyone on the road that day was in driver’s education—lane changes without a signal, stopping and starting without the foggiest idea of where they wanted to go, and left turns from the right hand lane. With each passing minute the frustration built inside her. With each red light she became angrier. Each minute stuck in traffic caused her disappointment to grow, which she revealed to the world as frustration and anger.
By the time she made it back to the dry cleaners and gave the nice woman behind the counter a piece of her mind, the afternoon was over. She once again sat in traffic, this time with the end of work rush hour. She made it to bank just before it closed, but she had no time to head to the grocery store. She drove home irritated and disappointed.
As it turned out, Mike had had a similar idea. When she walked in the door, the house smelled amazing. Maybe the smell of garlic mashed potatoes and pasta brought her back to her childhood the way only fragrances seemed capable of doing. Maybe it was the stress of the day. Maybe it was her favorite James Taylor song flowing through the speakers. Maybe it was a lifetime of being scared of who she was and what other people thought. Maybe it was the over-arching fear of being vulnerable, even with her own husband because of the danger of being hurt. Maybe all of it was weighing on her at that very moment. Whatever it was, Lisa crumbled. She immediately slumped onto the couch and began sobbing.
Mike rushed to her side and put his arm around her. They sat like that for a while, Lisa sobbing and Mike alternating between wiping Lisa’s tears and brushing away his own. By the time they got off the couch, they had to reheat the dinner Mike had made, but it was one of the most amazing meals they had ever eaten. They talked late into the night about their pains and fears, hopes and dreams. It felt as if they were teenagers dating again.
If there was a moment where their love was renewed, this was it.
Life is a funny thing, though. Over the years their marriage had had good months and bad months, but they had always worked to put each other’s interests before their own. They thought their relationship could withstand anything life threw at them. A marriage isn’t made to withstand the death of a child, however—at least not their marriage.
* * *
Not long after Mike and Lisa had sat on that couch crying in each other’s arms, they were told they weren’t able to have children. After months and months of tests, doctors diagnosed Lisa with Polycistic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and told her she was unable to conceive a child. This news, for Lisa, was unacceptable. For some reason, she couldn’t even acknowledge the diagnosis. Stubbornness has difficulty standing on the sidelines. So she sought multiple second opinions. Mike dutifully stood by. Eventually, they found a doctor who didn’t believe she had PCOS. She did have ovarian cysts, he believed, but he was convinced there was a chance she could conceive, albeit a very small chance. A year, two tries with in vitro fertilization, and thousands of dollars later, Mike and Lisa were finally expecting a little boy. Nearly five years after they both said “I do,” they welcomed their only child into the world.
Chris had always been wild at heart. From what seemed like the moment he was born, Mike and Lisa had great trouble keeping Chris out of it. It was almost as if he was reacting to all the caution his parents had when he was child. In their eyes, he was such a miracle, a fragile child that should have never been born. They wouldn’t dare put him in danger. From the moment of conception, Mike and Lisa cared for their son with the caution of tightrope walkers. No false steps, they would think.
Chris had other plans. He danced to the beat of his own drum and never apologized for it. By the time he was six, for every cautious decision his parents made, he made three seemingly reckless decisions. He wasn’t rebellious; he was just a curious and adventurous boy. His curiosity always brought Mike and Lisa new challenges. Chris forced them to learn quickly how to let go, oftentimes when their inclination was not to. When he came to them on his eighteenth birthday and told them he wasn’t going to immediately enroll in college and instead would be spending time backpacking and volunteering in India, Thailand, Malaysia (and any other number of countries thousands of miles from home), Mike and Lisa weren’t surprised. This may have come as a shock to other parents, but Mike and Lisa were preparing for something like this for years.
He told them he planned to continue writing on his blog, which would allow them to track his travels and his experiences. Chris had been keeping a blog for nearly a year now. He wrote about his everyday interactions and his idealistic hopes. His last entry, the night before he flew to Bangkok, was no different.
“Jesus don’t love me, no one ever carried my load. I’m too young to feel this old.”
I was at the grocery store the other day in the late afternoon. The post-work rush was about to hit. I hate being at any grocery store at this time of the day. As I danced through the white-washed aisles, I tried not to become agitated by the worn-out shoppers who had just left their boring desk jobs. My goal was to make it in and out as quickly as possible, but my goal was clearly futile this late in the day. When I made my way up to check out, I felt my blood pressure rising as I watched the over-weight woman at the front of the line suck down 42 ounces of something clearly not meant to be drunk in those portions. In a moment of levity, I couldn’t help but think that I was very suddenly and quite literally the person in David Foster Wallace’s This Is Water.
As I stood in that line, I had been erroneously convinced that this trip to the grocery store was all about me, when in fact it wasn’t. I had been ignoring the fact that each of these hurried individuals, the same ones I found deplorable just minutes ago, were struggling, hard-working people that wanted the same thing from life as I wanted. So I made the CHOICE, right there in the checkout aisle, to look at these people as caring individuals who just wanted to be loved, to be seen for who they were and allowed to be themselves. They didn’t realize how much they were annoying me with their screaming kids, bad dietary choices, and whistling. (Why do people whistle so loudly in public?!) They knew not what they were doing. Besides, I’m sure the exposed toes resting in my flip-flops were driving some other people in the store crazy too.
So instead of becoming more annoyed by the minute, I took that moment to realize I was surrounded by water. I decided to think the best of these people around me and love them, even without them knowing I was loving them. Because this was what I would want from them.
There’s no mystical power that will come along and ease their burdens. No almighty god will come down from the heavens to tell them they are loved. The only people that can do that are you and me. If we don’t tell each other we’re amazing individuals just the way we are, no one will.
When Lisa read Chris’ last entry before she drove him to the airport, she admired his idealism, as she always did. At the same time, she couldn’t help but think this exact idealism that she admired was due to the fact that he was young and naïve.
“Just wait until you get older,” she told him as they drove up to the airport drop-off. “You’ll realize most of those people at the grocery store are, in fact, terribly annoying people. Most of them are careless and selfish.”
Chris just smiled at his mother without the slightest hint of annoyance or judgment. They hopped out of the car, and he grabbed his one bag. “I love you, Mom. Don’t you dare go and lose that cynicism while I’m gone. It’s my life’s mission to squeeze it out you!” he said as he hugged his mother tightly.
“I love you too,” Lisa doted. “Are you sure this one bag is enough?”
“Yes, Mother,” he sighed in return.
He tried to avoid the eye roll, but it seemed to come reflexively. This was at least the fifth time she had commented on how few things he was bringing for a trip across the world. He had clearly grown tired of the constant focus on his backpack.
“Sorry,” his mother smiled sheepishly. “You know I worry about you.”
Lisa paused to kiss his forehead. Then, pulling him closely for another hug, she told him again that she loved him.
“Another post should be up while I’m en route. Short and sweet,” he winked at her.
Her son kissed her goodbye and then disappeared through the automatic airport doors. Like jaws opening and closing again, the doors swallowed him up. Lord knows how many times she cursed that moment. Why didn’t she hug him one last time? Why did she tell him he was naïve? She loved his writing. Why couldn’t she have just told him that?
Check out Part 3 of the Gravesite.
Cold Desert (Lyrics)
Kings of Leon
I’m on the corner, waiting for a light to come on
That’s when I know that you’re alone
It’s cold in the desert, water never sees the ground
Special unspoken without sound
You told me you loved me, that I’d never die alone
Hand over your heart, let’s go home
Everyone noticed, everyone has seen the signs
I’ve always been known to cross lines
I’ve never ever cried when I was feeling down
I’ve always been scared of the sound
Jesus don’t love me, no one ever carried my load
I’m too young to feel this old
Is it you, is it me
Or does nobody know, nobody see
Nobody but me.
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