Medicine for the Masses

More than occasionally, a song will catch my interest, and I’ll play it again and again, mulling over its meaning in my mind. I have no way of knowing, of course, whether the meaning I come up with is what the artist intended, but that doesn’t really matter. Once the artist puts it out there, it’s fair game for interpretation, and particularly in the age of instant access through the Internet, authorial intent means little.

But I digress.

The song I’m currently listening to is “Cough Syrup” by Young the Giant. If you haven’t heard it, check it out:

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The lyrics resonate with me. Let me just ramble a minute about a few of them.

Cough syrup. Everyone’s looking for a cure, for something to quiet the noise, to sooth the scratchiness that comes from being on the up side of the dirt and daisies.

I think the song is about anti-conformity. It’s about the struggle of being someone that everyone else isn’t. Not because you want to be, but just because you are. It’s a recognition that society, church, government and sometimes even your friends and family want you to fit in.

“These zombies in the park they’re looking for my heart.” If there’s anything that represents conformity in popular culture, it’s zombies. George Romero knew that. (Watch Dawn of the Dead and tell me he’s not making a statement about how consumerism makes conformists of us all in American society.) Zombies right now are enjoying a certain popularity. They’re cool, they’re hip, they can be like your best friends. Really? There is nothing more un-cool than a zombie. Zombies are mindless killing machines. They are the masses who never question why, who never “burn, burn, burn” as Jack Kerouac said, who are content with a day-in-day-out mundane existence. And that’s all it is — simple existence until the day you die. Survival.

But as The Offspring sang in “Staring at the Sun,” there’s more to living than only surviving.

The spark you carry inside threatens that existence, be it a spark of creativity, of life, of joyousness. Even of depression. Zombies have no emotions. They want to scoop the emotions from your soul, lop off your highs and lows until you are mono-emotion and don’t feel anything. Like them.

“If I could find a way to see this straight I’d run away to some fortune that I should have found by now.” There are always people to tell you that “this” will make you happier. That if you just iron out the kinks and wrinkles that make you different from everyone else, it will make you successful. Whether it’s eating your peas and carrots or minding your P’s and Q’s, if you’d just go along life would make sense.

“And so I run back to the things they say could restore me, restore life the way it should be.” I usually think of church at this point. That’s one of the great answers to anyone’s struggles — go to church. No one ever tells you that that’s just going to cause more struggles to fit in. Go to church, get more education, stop taking illgal drugs, start taking legal ones, get a good paying job, stop looking at porn, if you’re gay become straight, if you’re straight, stop sleeping around, get married, have children. And THEN you’ll be happy, you’ll experience life the way it should be. (Caveat — life the way it should be in zombie terms, not your own terms.)

Yeah. Right.

As Young the Giant goes on, “I’m waiting for this cough syrup to come down.”

You can kill the life inside you. The world will be a poorer place for that. “A dark world aches for a splash of the sun.”

I’m not giving in. “There’s more to living than only surviving. Maybe I’m not there, but I’m still trying.”


A Doll, a Dress and a Black Stetson Hat

Quite a while ago, one of my very best friends had to move. She and her family were downsizing from a good sized house to an apartment, and so she was getting rid of a lot of stuff. We all collect bits and pieces over the years, especially when you have three girls who have gone all their lives in that same house. Baby feet had learned to walk up and down the stairs, and those feet eventually made clay footprint impressions in Sunday school. School papers from kindergarten to senior high had been displayed on the refrigerator. So had her husband’s love poems to her.

Bits and pieces.

Something larger that she had, something that perhaps can’t be called a bit or a piece, were things that had belonged to her mom, who had passed away not long before. Presents to my friend throughout the years, things she had made, dolls she had collected. Angel had to make the heartbreaking decision of what to keep and what to throw away.

I have no idea how she did it.

I’m in the same position now. Circumstances are forcing a move to another apartment, and my family is getting rid of almost everything.

What’s the big deal? I find myself thinking. It’s just a book. It’s just a child’s stuffed toy. It can all be replaced. It’s just stuff. Right?

Three particular bits and pieces.

First, the harlequin doll. I’ve had her for most of my married life, 38 years now. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her, the maroon clown suit, the gentle porcelin hands, the sad painted face. She’s traveled with me to various places. She has seen the sorrows we have gone through and witnessed the joys. She is the only doll I haven’t been freaked out by.

Second, my wedding dress. I probably don’t even need to say anything else about that, because most women will probably know emotionally what I’m saying just when I say “my wedding dress.” So much promise, hope and joy wrapped up in that bit of satin and lace, seed pearls dotting the neckline like little tears. It’s a bit yellowed and I wonder if I really did fit into it at one time, and like the doll, I have carried it carefully from one place to the next.

Third, my dad’s black Stetson hat. It’s dusty, as perhaps any cowboy hat should be. No, my dad wasn’t a cowboy, except maybe in spirit. But he loved the hat, and he wore it well. I haven’t carried it around with me as long as the other two. Only 25 years. Since my dad’s death.

I found out how much these three things mean to me when I tried to throw them away. I say tried, because I did actually take them downstairs to the dumpster and laid them carefully, lovingly, inside. Laid them as gently as I would a child to sleep. Laid them as lovingly as I would for any burial. I spoke to each one as I did, saying goodbye to these three “things” that are so much more than just “things.” Getting rid of the harlequin–oddly she has no name–felt as though I were telling her that she wasn’t important. Getting rid of my wedding dress felt as though I were telling my husband that he wasn’t important any longer. Getting rid of my dad’s hat felt as though he had died all over again.

Bits and pieces. Life. And perhaps death.

I cried all the way back upstairs. At that point, my husband said, “Let’s not be hasty,” and we went back downstairs and retrieved the three bits and pieces and brought them back home.

They had been redeemed, these three bits and pieces that make up a life.

I suppose I could get spiritual and say that in the same way, I’ve been redeemed. That sin has us all in the dumpster, dirty and reeking with the stink of rot, until Jesus, because of love for us, comes and pulls us out, cleans us up and places us in his home.

I could. But that’s not really what this is about.

Sometimes we don’t need to get extra spiritual. We can live in the moment. We can glory in earthly things. I can enjoy the way the rising sun casts an orangish glow through my new living room window, or the way the treetops look as I sit in my breakfast nook eating eggs for breakfast. I can feel the pleasure of my muscles working as I peddle up a hill and the sheer joy of freedom and the wind whipping through my hair as I let her fly down hill.

I can enjoy the bits and pieces, the doll, the dress and the black Stetson hat.