How Many the Fallen

I started writing this song for week 25 of #songaweek2018 from the center of a Nerf gun battlezone. I was the lone adult at home while my son and three of his cousins took up their battle stations and went at it. That morning was the lull in a busy week, and the best time I could find to work on songwriting.

Earlier in the week, the amur maple in our front yard broke irreparably in a summer storm. The next day, my brother-in-law and his family came to visit for several days, and one day we all went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. My kids were eager to show their cousins a certain painting I’ve previously showed them, where if you look closely enough in a dark place in the woods, you can see the profiles of two ghostly faces, the remnants of another painting underneath the more visible one.

And running through everything last week, the horrendous news of my government thinking it’s a good idea to separate children from their parents – and doing it, to thousands of families. I haven’t had anything to say because it feels a little like saying the earth orbits the sun, or things we drop fall because of gravity, or everyone needs food, water, and sleep. Children belong with their parents. Tearing families apart is abominable immigration policy.

I wasn’t consciously thinking about this news story when I wrote this song, but it was keeping me up at night, throbbing like an unnoticed alert at the back of my head, a perpetual lump in my throat. I am both a child and a parent, and this action of my government leaves me breathless.

So as my mind and heart were processing all that in the background, I wrote into this song a baby, a tiny hand, the trusting heart of a child, the courageous heart of a parent embarking on an impossible journey into a better day for their children. What’s happening at our southern border isn’t what this song is about, but the heartlessness of my government towards people trying to cross that border has directly and indirectly added countless lives to the numbers of the fallen, the fading, the lost. (And it’s been going on a long time. Start here for an introduction to the US Border Patrol’s scheme of “Prevention Through Deterrence.”)

The very last line of the last verse, “into the fray,” was inspired by my friend Jen Bluhm’s song “Into the Fray,” which I learned was taken from a poem which came from the movie  The Grey. Which relates a bit to the line about the painting as well – that so much creative work exists, and has existed – so much good work that will never hang in a museum or get a million views or a thousand plays or even a second glance. So much is fading, so much is lost – and yet, it all – all of us, our works and actions and interactions – are expanding this mysterious circle of life.

All of the above are my reflections on what was influencing me as I wrote this song. I’ve been using these blog posts expressly for that purpose – to talk about the background of the songs I’m writing – but sometimes I think talking too much about the origin of a song can take away from the experience of listening to it with your own ears and perspective.

So here’s the song, in its own words, for your own listening ears and thoughtful consideration.

I held the edge of the universe
It sighed like a baby
And slept in my arms
I heard the very last note of the concert
They played at the end of all things
Then I lifted my voice

How many the fallen, the fading, the lost
Expanding the circle of life

The tree that broke in the thunderstorm
Will crumble to soil
And grow living things
The painting speaking to me from the wall
Keeps past lives under its skin

How many the fallen, the fading, the lost
Expanding the circle of life

The morning holds out her tiny hand
And begs to go walking
Into the day
You know you never can tell what’s beyond
the horizon but you go willingly
into the fray

How many the fallen, the fading, the lost
Expanding the circle of life

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