The Weepies

I’ve always been a sappy, idealistic kind of guy, the kind of guy who loves Frank Capra films because he wants to believe in goodness, and who wishes that the news from the Senate this week had been a bit more like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Luckily, Kimberly is pretty sappy in her own way, so neither of us has to be embarassed when we get misty-eyed about a TV show.

Since my lymphoma, I’ve developed an added dimension of this, which, for the lack of a better term, I’ll just call ‘the weepies.’ There are just some things that can instantly trigger tears streaming down my face before I know it. My near-death experiences have left me with a clear channel straight to my unfiltered emotional heart, and every so often, something can zip right down that channel and hit a switch, and out come the tears.

It’s not always tears of sadness, or pain. Often the opposite. In fact, to me the interesting thing about these tears is that they are often so many things at once, happy, sad, grateful, grieving. I wasn’t kidding about that clear channel; this is undistilled emotion, before it’s gotten fractionated into happy or sad. Depending on the trigger, it may have more a flavor of one or another identifiable feeling, but it’s never, ever simple.

Over the years I’ve developed a list of some triggers, things that have set me off more than once, and some that will do it every time. A beautiful dawn, or the right kind of sunny day will do it, and for those the predominant flavors are joy and gratitude.

Songs seem to be good as triggers, and there are some that will get me weeping immediately, no matter what mood I’m in. One of these is the Louis Armstrong version of ‘What a Wonderful World’, although just about any other version will do. After what I’ve been through, the awareness of what it means to simply be alive to experience the world is powerful. I always think it’s funny when that song comes on the radio, because there it is a happy, optimistic song, and there I am with tears running down my cheeks, barely able to speak, because it is such a happy song.

Other songs work for different reasons. Sometimes the lyric strikes me in just the right way, and sometimes it’s something that I heard at a particular time, now linked to a particular experience. Bob Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ is one. You don’t have to be Freud to figure out that a song with the lyric

that long black cloud is coming down,
I feel like I’m knockin’ on Heaven’s door

might have some resonance for me. It probably helps that I heard it on the radio late one night, when I was alone in my hospital room, after the radiation treatments had failed, and the chemo hadn’t started working. I weighed less than 120 pounds, and was inexorably losing a pound a day.

So those tears are mixed with remembered fear and loss, as well as relief that, while I was knocking, no one answered. For a moment, that song connects me with the young man who was bawling that night at the hospital, and simultaneously with the awareness that I made it, when I really wasn’t sure I would, and me-then has a good cry with me-now, and then the song ends, I wipe off my face, and go on with whatever I was doing.

In the past week, I’ve discovered two new songs that set me off, after the fight with the Squamous Monster. One I’d never heard before, but it was just so pretty. It probably helps that the lyric and structure remind me of both the courage I needed, and the strong feeling of communal support that made it possible, but I was teary before the end of the first verse. Not my usual response to a new song on the radio.

The song is ‘One Voice’, by a Canadian trio called the Wailin’ Jennys. You can listen to it here, and read about these three young women at their website. Kimberly wrote a lovely description of hearing the song on Prarie Home Companion, which I’ll just steal outright. (It’s a community-property state. 😉 )

Then came a voice that demanded my attention, a woman’s clear, pure voice singing:

This is the sound of one voice
One spirit, one voice
The sound of one who makes a choice
This is the sound of one voice.

A second female voice joined in, her close harmony floating just below the melody:

This is the sound of voices two
The sound of me singing with you
Helping each other to make it through
This is the sound of voices two.

With the third verse came a third voice, weaving its way through the other two:

This is the sound of voices three
Singing together in harmony
Surrendering to the mystery
This is the sound of voices three

This is the sound of all of us
Singing with love and the will to trust
Leave the rest behind it will turn to dust
This is the sound of all of us

After an instrumental interlude, the three women’s voices returned. The first line of this verse mirrored the beginning of the song, but the meaning of ‘one voice’ was dramatically different:

This is the sound of one voice
One people, one voice
A song for every one of us
This is the sound of one voice
This is the sound of one voice

When the song ended, I was teary-eyed with joy, for both the beauty of the singing and the glorious hopefulness of the song.

(As I say, she’s sappy in her own wonderful way, which makes it easier on both of us.)

The other recent discovery came as a surprise, because it’s a song I’ve heard probably hundreds of times before, without waterworks. I think it’s now a trigger because the lyrics resonate with how I’m feeling these days, as I move on with my life after a very bad time. There I was, listening to the CD player in my car, to a disc I’ve played before, and suddenly I was bawling. Luckily, I was parked in the driveway, working on my car.

So far, I’ve only tried one version of this song, so I don’t know if others will work the same way. This one is by a singer named Alana Davis, and if you remember that 2003 Sony Super Bowl commercial ‘Trip‘, with the guy who spends his kids’ inheritance on a trip into orbit with the Russians, you’ve heard it. (There’s a zipped MP3 file of the first two verses in the Sounds section of her website.)

The song is the classic ‘Carry On’, by Stephen Stills, and the beginning has a whole new meaning to me after getting through this illness.

One morning I woke up and I knew
You were really gone
A new day, a new way, I knew
I should see it along
Go your way, I’ll go mine and
Carry on

The sky is clearing and the night
Has gone out
The sun, he come, the world
is all full of light
Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice but
To carry on

The fortunes of fables are able
To sing the song
Now witness the quickness with which
We get along
To sing the blues you’ve got to live the dues and
Carry on

Carry on
Love is coming
Love is coming to us all