Friday, October 23, 2020

Moments of Wonder

It’s been called “timeless,” “bittersweet,” “seductive” . . . even “holy.”

I’m referring to the song “Wonderful Life,” and, yes, it’s all these things and more.

Written and performed by Colin Vearncombe (1962-2016), who went by the stage name Black, “Wonderful Life” was an international hit in 1987.

Perhaps you remember it. If so, I’m sure you’d agree that there was nothing else quite like this luxuriantly melodic song at the time, and nothing quite like it before or since.

How is this possible? Well, I think it’s to do with the artful blending of a number of very special things that all came together just at the right time and place.

First, there is Vearncombe’s voice, one that’s been described as a “slightly frayed baritone.” Then there’s his melancholic delivery of lyrics that actually speak of resolution and hope. It’s a combination that’s quite mesmerizing. The singer once said that “I was really being ironic. . . . Most people took it at face value,” which just goes to show how a song can take on a life of its own. I mean, people chose to not hear it as ironic; they chose instead, perhaps even subconsciously, to project onto Vearncombe’s song humanity's capacity for hope and fortitude, even within dismal settings and circumstances. Finally, there’s the song’s music video directed by Gerard De Thame. It too, with its striking black and white cinematography and at times surreal visuals, is hauntingly unique and unforgettable.

Commenting on all of this, one YouTube viewer remarks: “Everything about this is evocative – the vocals, the music, the video, and the mood. Totally unique and incomparable.”

So why, you may be asking, am I sharing all this today?

Well, today I turn 55, and as has been the tradition at The Wild Reed, I mark the occasion of my birthday by sharing a song or prayer or reflection that I find particularly meaningful; that somehow speaks to where I’m at on my journey.

On my 44th birthday, for instance, I shared Stephan Gately’s performance of “No Matter What,” and when I turned 45 I shared “Where the Truth Lies” by the band Exchange.

In 2012, when I turned 47, I shared a prayer for balance at a very trying time, not only for myself, but for many of us here in Minnesota.

Six years ago, on the first day of my fiftieth year, I shared a “guidepost on the journey,” and then one year later on the day of my 50th birthday, I shared Buffy Sainte-Marie’s rousing “It’s My Way.”

In 2017, when I turned 52, I shared a beautiful poem by John O’Donohue; while on my 53rd birthday, I shared vocalist Carl Anderson’s “Love Is,” a beautiful and powerful meditation on the mystery of love.

Last year, when I turned 54, I shared “This Is the Time,” a beautiful song by Senegalese singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Daby Touré.

This year, as you’ve no doubt ascertained, I’m sharing Black’s “Wonderful Life.” And after the music video below, I’ll say a little about why I chose this particular song to share on my birthday this year.

Here I go
Out to sea again
The sunshine fills my hair
And dreams hang in the air
Gulls in the sky
And in my blue eyes
You know it feels unfair,
There’s magic everywhere

Look at me standing
Here on my own again,
Up straight in the sunshine
No need to run and hide,
It’s a wonderful, wonderful life
No need to laugh or cry,
It’s a wonderful, wonderful life

The sun’s in your eyes,
The heat is in your hair
They seem to hate you
Because you’re there
And I need a friend,
Oh, I need a friend
To make me happy,
Not stand here on my own

Look at me standing
Here on my own again,
Up straight in the sunshine
No need to run and hide,
It’s a wonderful, wonderful life
No need to laugh or cry,
It’s a wonderful, wonderful life

Now, to be honest, what with all that’s happening in the U.S. and the world right now, I’m having a hard time with the whole “wonderful life” thing.

Between the global coronavirus pandemic and the possibility of Trump winning a second term in next month’s presidential election, I find myself constantly fighting off debilitating feelings of anxiety and dread. It’s a real struggle to not let these feelings weigh me down, and it's a struggle that I find emotionally exhausting.

There is also another reason why I’m not feeling particularly wonder-filled right now, or even celebratory today on my birthday. Earlier this week I was told that my friend Mahad had suffered a stroke while undergoing heart surgery. From what I'm hearing from his brother Adnan, Mahad is in what is medically termed a “persistent vegetative state,” meaning that even though his breathing is occurring naturally, he has no signs of cognitive awareness. It’s a comatose state characterized as “awake but unaware.”

This news has been devastating for many, and I continue to experience a deep sense of grief around the loss of my friend, a young man who had experienced many hardships and set-backs, and, yes, who had made mistakes, but who had finally began putting his life together in good and hopeful and healthy ways. I’m feeling grief too around some very simple, uncomplicated things related to my friend and his loss, like realizing I’ll never see Mahad’s beautiful smile again, at least not in this world.

Given all of this, is it any wonder that I find myself drawn to the mournful melody of “Wonderful Life.”

But you know, I’m not a pessimist. I value and seek to embody hope and proactivism. So I'm drawn to the words of this song as well.

That both sadness and hope are integrated so beautifully and powerfully in “Wonderful Life” reminds me that in my own life, I too can integrate them in beautiful and powerful ways. Indeed, I've come to believe, to trust, that such integration is key to forging and experiencing a life full of wonder.

I don't have to “run and hide” in the face of anxiety or grief, but can open myself to these feelings and allow them to make me a more compassionate and empathetic person. I can also surrender them to the Love that infuses and sustains all things, to the “magic everywhere,” trusting that this Love will gift me in return with a new perspective (which is one way to understand a miracle) by which I can view and live with my anxiety and grief in ways that make them less overwhelming.

I can recognize when I need a friend, and can reach out to people in my life whom I trust will listen and provide solace and care. At the same time I know that at my deepest level I do indeed “stand alone,” but also upright and in the “sunshine.” I perceive this sunshine as a beautiful and powerful metaphor for the Divine Love within all of us; a Love that consoles and strengthens, illuminates amd transforms.

Speaking of sunshine, my happiest memories of Mahad were when we spent time together in nature. I recall how such times were like a healing balm for him, for both of us. We were never more open and honest in our talking with each other than when we were in nature. These experiences not only grounded us, literally, within the natural world, they also grounded us in the deepest truths of our lives and our friendship.

This is how I choose to remember Mahad . . . and how I'll be celebrating my birthday this year: by taking quiet time to recollect and cherish those all-to-brief moments of life we got to share. Moments of beauty, of heart-sharing, and, yes, of wonder.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
This Is the Time
With Love Inside
On This “Echoing-Day” of My Birth
Turning 50
A Guidepost on the Journey
In the Eye of the Storm, a Tree of Living Flame
Journeying Into the Truth . . . Valiantly, of Course
No Matter What

See also:
Time By the River
A Longing and a Prayer
Now Is the Time
You Will Know It
Ride to Sundown
Out and About – Spring 2018
Out and About – Summer 2018
Out and About – Autumn 2018
Autumn . . . Within and Beyond
The Prayer Tree
From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Bookshelf
“Call Upon Those You Love”
Holy Encounters Where Two Worlds Meet
Grief and Gratitude


Phyllis Reames said...

Beautiful words, Michael. Thanks so much for sharing. So very sorry to hear about your dear friend.

Mum said...

Thank you Michael for your Post. Beautiful tribute to Mahad. Love & Peace .. Mum

Lisa said...

Happy birthday! So Sorry to hear about your friend. Such a vibrant man. It makes one realize that life is short and precious, indeed.

Sandi said...

I was both touched by your words and saddened about your friend that you have enjoyed and shared so much with.

As you always do, despite everything you still manage to find the hope and positivity ... the light. I appreciated how honest you were in your reflections about everything, and how it's not always easy to calm anxieties and feelings. I think your thoughtful words helped me today.
I have much admiration for you, my friend.

Tone said...

I’m sad to hear the news about your beautiful friend, Mahad. It is challenging to feel celebratory this year at all, and then when you learn devastating news about someone you care for it can be overwhelming. I pray that you will find your center soon and feel better, Michael.

Katie said...

Oh Michael, devastating to hear about Mahad. I am so sorry. I know so many of your favorite places are imbued with his spirit, and I hope you will continue to find solace in that.

Also, dear friend, I am sending you so many birthday wishes and blessings and so much love. 💜💜💜

Raelee said...

I am so sorry about your friend Mahad, Michael. I felt the emotion in your writing and loved your wonderful words and photos of your friend. I enjoyed listening to ‘Wonderful Life.’ I do hope you can find peace. Take care.

David Edward Strand said...

Thanks, Michael. Happy Birthday! This speaks so beautifully to staying with love in complex and complicated times, personal and otherwise. I feel blessed to have been given this gift you’ve shared.