Forgive Everyone Everything

Sometimes I write a song just to help me process an idea or event. That’s the case with this one.

My daughter and I visited Reconciliation Park in Mankato, Minnesota, this past week, and these words “forgive everyone everything” were inscribed there. I felt them to be difficult and freeing, beautiful and irritating, controversial and common-sensical. In Mankato, in 1862, 38 Dakota men were publicly hanged by the United States government in the wake of the US-Dakota Conflict. This memorial and these words were placed here by native and white community members together, and you can read more about it here.

The last photo in the video is the tea tag I just happened to have with me as I was writing this song on Thursday.

Hate is a hard road
Rutted and narrow
Twisting and dragging on and on
Love is a river
and when you flow with her
you find yourself right where you belong

Forgive everyone everything

You didn’t start this
You cannot end it
But you can hold on to what is good
And wave it like wheat fields
And feel it like fireflies
Glowing like starlight in the woods

Forgive everyone everything

Breathe it in deeply
Breathe it out freely
Sing it like sunshine after rain

Forgive everyone everything

What We’re Fighting For

This week’s song came together from so many influences. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

Peace, please, peace.

Afghani woman on BBC Newshour, 13 August 2021

Won’t you knock down all the walls that we built stable? / Tip them over and restore them to sturdy dinner tables

Nate Crary, Messy Mass liturgy, “Only By Our Lonesome” song

“Once There Was” – a song and an album by Carrellee. It’s really only that phrase that influenced the line in my song, “once there never was.” Just playing with words.

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” by Pete Seeger

Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .

Jesus, Matthew 5:3

You think you know all the right things to tell a fool like me
But I won’t hear you at all as long as this wall stands where a table should be

I am not so sure what we’re fighting for
Where have all the poor in spirit gone?

Once there never was all that we tell ourselves there was back then
Now is right where we are and right where we can begin to be again

I am not so sure what we’re fighting for
Where have all the poor in spirit gone?

“Peace, please, peace . . .”

We are stars and mud, spirit and spit fire and flood, brawn and brain
Ours are oceans unknown, deserts that patiently await the rain

I am not so sure what we’re fighting for
Where have all the poor in spirit gone?

I’m Nobody! Who Are You?

Emily Dickinson wrote this poem that’s been coming to my mind often lately. It feels more meaningful than ever right now, in our always-on-brand, everyone-pay-attention-to-me, social-media-saturated culture. Being nobody seems so very sane and wise in contrast. With enough nobodies we could change the world I think.

For further consideration, hear this episode of the “Another Name for Everything” podcast with Richard Rohr, discussing the idea of the cosmic egg, and specifically the dangers of over-focusing on “my story.”

Also this “Big Head” episode of Matthew Syed’s “Sideways” podcast, which happened to come up in my feed today and felt truly timely.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Emily Dickinson

How Long How Long?

Time is a funny thing. I would say this song was inspired by my reading of this Brain Pickings post detailing a letter Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother, except that I read the post after I’d already written the song. Here’s an especially relevant quote from it –

What moulting is to birds, the time when they change their feathers, that’s adversity or misfortune, hard times, for us human beings. One may remain in this period of moulting, one may also come out of it renewed, but it’s not to be done in public, however; it’s scarcely entertaining, it’s not cheerful, so it’s a matter of making oneself scarce.

Vincent Van Gogh

I don’t want to say a lot about this song. Just that in my 45 years I’ve come to know firsthand the immense value of the pause. Time truly can heal – but you have to give yourself to it, and sometimes that means removing yourself from the rushing river where everything else purports to be happening, and everybody expects something from you.

How long how long can you hold on to the pain?
When when can you let go and open up again?

Can you go the distance with these rocks inside your shoes?
Is there ever space and time to stop it all for a while?
Life is bright with colors but you only feel the blues
And everyone keeps telling you to smile

How long how long can you hold on to the pain?
When when can you let go and open up again?

Everyone’s a critic, every dog thinks it’s his day
Every day’s frenetic and a rest can feel like a crime
You rest easy honey, feel the cosmic cradle sway
Something good will happen in good time

How long how long can you hold on to the pain?
When when can you let go and open up again?

How long. . . ?

How long how long can you hold on to the pain?

I Am Love

“I don’t even know how to talk to people anymore,” I heard someone say recently. And I feel that so much too. Not that I ever really knew how to talk to people! But whatever progress I had made in 45 years feels stunted after one year of social distancing.

Emerging from pandemic life, I feel awkward and unsure and even afraid, a little like I did back in junior high – what will people think of me? What if I say the wrong thing? Practically any time spent on social media these days only amplifies those feelings for me.

There’s a lot more I could (try to!) say about how and why I wrote this song, but to sum up, this was one of the few songs I’ve written that felt mostly like a complete gift from the blue – the comforting words I needed just showing up in my thoughts when I most needed them.

You don’t have to be right, you don’t have to be smart
You don’t have to be what you are, you don’t have to be what you aren’t
You are completely loved, you’re forever forgiven
My great heart is enlarged by your wondrous existence

I’m the last to judge
I’m the first to love 
I always was, I always will be
I am who I am

You don’t have to make sense, you can tell me what’s on your mind
You can never offend one who sees you from every side
And I love who I see and you’re not the only one
Take a look around, oh I feel this for everyone

I’m the last to judge
I’m the first to love 
I always was, I always will be
I am who I am

In the end all that it comes down to is love in everything

And that’s what the world needs, that’s what everyone’s wanting
It feels impossible but with me nothing
Is impossible, no it’s never been easy
but it’s simple enough for a child to see

I’m the last to judge
I’m the first to love 
I always was, I always will be
I am who I am

There’s a Story Here

This song started from my listening to a Radiolab podcast episode called “Kleptotherms.” The episode consisted of several stories and I think it was the second story, the one about a young man with schizophrenia named John and an old woman he met on the beach when he was having a bad day, who invited him to sit with her and eat his lunch. I can’t even tell you how much I loved this story and hearing John tell it himself.

And that feels like it makes no sense with the way the song played out. I wrote the first verse and then the chorus where the words “there’s a story here” tumbled out and brought with them “but it doesn’t need telling,” and I thought that was so strange until “at least not in so many words” helped to make a little more sense of the idea.

That night I went to bed and another verse came to me as I was falling towards sleep, so I put it all down in my phone memos to deal with the next day.

The next day – I had a verse with a lovely little story and then another verse describing something more sinister. I was having a hard time making sense of this song but it still felt compelling to me.

So I lived with it another day and night, played it a few more times, worked out the bones of a bridge and last chorus that helped me understand it a little more. This morning I walked the dog and got the lines that feel like a key – “you take it all in, you live it all out.”

Some things are beyond explanation, transcendent in positive or negative ways – beautiful or terrible or neither or both but just not put-into-words-able. These are stories that we probably tell better with our lives than with our words.

Or something like that. There’s a song here but maybe it doesn’t need all that telling, not so many words.

He was feeling so low
Couldn’t talk himself down
From the edge in the fog in his head
She was there on the beach
Asking him to sit down
And eat his sandwich instead

A young troubled man
An old placid woman
The sun and the sand and the birds
There’s a story here
But it doesn’t need telling
At least not in so many words

Under stained glass you see him
The man of the cloth
Pulling wool over sheep’s trusting eyes
While the wolves go on howling
Outside in the dark
And you still have to live till you die

The devil you know
The devil you don’t
The lies and confessions you’ve heard
There’s a story here
But it doesn’t need telling
At least not in so many words

And you know what you know
And you feel what you feel
And you wait till the moment is right
But it all stacks up wrong
On the tip of your tongue
And you swallow it back in one bite

You take it all in
You live it all out
The subject, the object, the verb
There’s a story here
But it doesn’t need telling
At least not in so many words

Hold Me Close Like a Telephone

In the course of writing this song I discovered that Bob Dylan cowrote the song “Wagon Wheel” and also that Darius Rucker of one of high-school-me’s favorite bands Hootie and the Blowfish did a cover of it, in addition to the one I had heard before by Old Crow Medicine Show.

I learned all that because after I wrote this song it kept nagging me that I had copied something somehow. My subconscious went to work and got me the answer, and Google confirmed it and taught me all those other details.

For artistic integrity (and/or because I’m just not taking the time this week for a big recording), I sang this one into my phone.

Here it is, my song for week 18 of #songaweek2021:

I don’t mean to be rude, I mean I never mean to be mean
Some days feel no good, so no no good to keep all to myself

Hold me close like a telephone
Ring me round with whispers of your love

There’s nothing we can do to change the days we left behind us
Every moment’s new, and this one’s telling us we can be too

Hold me close like a telephone
Ring me round with whispers of your love

There’s something to be said for everybody saying something
Nice and kind of kind to help each other help each other smile

Let’s hold our world like a telephone
Ring it round with whispers of our love

I Think I’ll Come Back Now

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who experienced that social distancing led to emotional distancing this past year. Now that more of my loved ones and myself are fully vaccinated and I’m relishing hugs again, and the world outside is greening up and springing forth, I feel an old familiar longing for closeness and affection coming back, which had been fading. That’s what was going on when I wrote this song for week 17 of #songaweek2021.

(But as with all art, what I brought to the song is in no way definitive. Much of my joy in sharing what I create is knowing it meets others in different ways. And more than once a song I wrote years ago will bring me something new when I bring it out again.)

Nobody told me I’d be sad and lonely, I wasn’t prepared for this
I don’t remember how I ended up outside looking in

I think I’ll come back now
Return from the somewhere else
Land this weary ship
I’m coming back home
Don’t ask me where I was
I never really knew
There’s nothing much to tell
I just want to come home

I was gonna change the world but the world changed without me
I was gonna change the world but the world changed me

I think I’ll come back now
Return from the somewhere else
Land this weary ship
I’m coming back home
Don’t ask me where I was
I never really knew
There’s nothing much to tell
I just want to come home

Ground of God

Here’s my song for week 16 of #songaweek2021.

There’s pits you never might get to the bottom of
There’s rivers flowing any which way but love
There’s words nobody with breath ever should have said
Reverberating inside your head

All is falling, falling down
Falling down on the ground of God

There’s peaks you never might wish to descend from
There’s roads going every direction home
There’s songs of healing and joy about to be sung
Vibrating on the tip of your tongue

All is rising, rising up
Rising up from the ground of God

Be still children be still
Breathe the breath of life
Be not afraid
To give it back 

There’s no beginning or end to the question
There’s battles around you and war within
There’s hope that hits you like a bolt from the blue
Obliterating what you thought you knew

All is falling, falling down
Falling down on the ground of God
All is rising, rising up
Rising up from the ground of God