Music has a tendency to find me when I need it. I can’t count the amount of times a song has come up on shuffle, and it was like sunlight unexpectedly bursting into a room. Or when a band I love puts out a new album and I rediscover a song on an older album. I find I am suddenly in exactly the right state to fall in love with it, and it becomes a new favorite that acts like a beacon to pull me past whatever I’m going through.
That was the case a few years ago when I mentioned José González‘s brilliant album Veneer on a date (seriously, don’t you want to lean your head on someone’s shoulder, look at the stars, and listen to him sing “Heartbeats“??). When I got home I excitedly listened to his band Junip‘s new album. The song “Walking Lightly” came on, and it was like an auditory cathexis – all other sound and experience dissolved into soft focus and there was just this intensely beautiful song opening my heart and filling it with light and a sense that everything would be okay. It was the soft blanket wrapped around me when I most needed it, and I listened to it around the clock, hoping my coworkers didn’t realize it was literally on repeat for hour-long stretches sometimes. I saw Junip perform at (le) poisson rouge about a week before my beautiful Smokey died, when I knew he was nearing the end but still couldn’t accept it. I think that concert and seeing that song get put together live is one of the only things that preserved my sanity during that time, and it gave me whatever it was I needed to keep functioning and get through losing my honey.
Not surprisingly, it broke my heart to listen to Junip for years afterwards, no matter how much I still loved their music. I think everyone goes through that with the songs that get them through a loss or break-up, and it’s a tremendous feeling to be able to listen to them again and see that enough time has passed to have healed some, where the hurt has turned from an acute stab to a dull ache; it reminds you that eventually it will fade back into pure love.
One of my absolute favorite things to do is walk around and think. I recently read a new-to-me article from 2014 discussing some of the health and psychological benefits of purposeless walking, and I thought about how important walking and running is for clearing my head, processing experiences, working out artistic ideas, and reconnecting with the present tense. When I really need to mull something over, I can only effectively do it in motion, even though I don’t completely follow the prescribed method in that article (or the countless others I’ve read about running). I tend to listen to music because New York can be relentlessly loud and full of conversations I don’t want to overhear. Also because I am obsessed with music, but you knew that part already.
The other day I was in a specific kind of terrible pain that precluded running, but I knew I would feel better if I walked a few miles in the sunshine. I went to the amazing track in my neighborhood that’s across the street from Yankee Stadium so I could just get lost in my head. I used to despise track running, feeling like I was on a 1/4-mile long hamster wheel, but there is enough general activity at this one (this time it was an excellent soccer tournament) that I don’t even mind routinely being mistaken for a high school or college student by guys eager to show off how much taller and fitter they are. I really like the Bronx.
Walking around and around, I started thinking about the non-linear shape of time, picturing the layered loops on the MapMyRun app as a metaphor for our daily routines and the repetitions we make over time. “Walking Lightly” came on my shuffle, and I started to think through some of the experiences I wish I’d handled more gracefully in the moment and the way those missteps reverberated forward through time, often irrevocably damaging friendships and relationships. I also thought about past hurts, and the way holding onto grudges kept hurting me every time I thought about them with anger. As Salman Rushdie put it in his latest book:
“In the end, rage, no matter how profoundly justified, destroys the enraged. Just as we are created anew by what we love, so we are reduced and unmade by what we hate.”
I’d read an article earlier that day that someone had posted about the health benefits of forgiveness (apologies if you’re the one who posted it and I’m not crediting you – I really can’t remember how I got to it). Like a lot of people, I have a pretty firm policy against dating people who speak badly about their exes or parents, and I am always uneasy when friends still carry anger toward former friends or acquaintances. And yet, I am weapons-grade stubborn about holding grudges and I know it takes me a problematically long time to forgive and move on, especially when I know the person who hurt me doesn’t feel any remorse. I did a little mental inventory and realized, yeah, I still have some stuff, and I don’t want to keep carrying it anymore.
© Dr. Joerg M. Harms, Riboworld
Time isn’t a neat spiral or coil moving cleanly upwards or directly toward something. It’s a blobby, amorphous tangle of experiences that are shaped and colored differently as we go back and forth through them. I picture it like a complex protein. We think we are just shuffling along with minimal baggage, and then our secondary alpha-helix loops back around on a moment from long ago. Memory is a creative process, and if the past emotions haven’t been resolved they stick out and radiate energy that demands attention each time we remember them, like repeatedly stubbing a hurt toe. If the experiences are ugly or upsetting enough, they act like intramolecular forces that keep us reattaching and tangling ourselves back up in the same emotion every time, grasping that hot coal and getting burned over and over.
Memory is a strange form of transportation, and I think your mind really does bring you back and forth through time. It’s like this Tweet that describes the surreality of reading a book as, “you stare at marked slices of tree for hours on end hallucinating vividly.” If the mind truly is traveling back to that time and place that hurt, why do we feel compelled to keep reliving the painful memories? Is the brief satisfaction of a hateful grudge more important than letting the mind move around in peace?
I started to picture an alternative, of smoothing over the rough edges in my past by seeking understanding and compassion (however much I’m inclined to say it’s undeserved), and I made the decision to really forgive and move on, for my own sake, and to hope the people that I have hurt can do the same. I realize the only way out is through, so I need to find another way of feeling.
I believe that if I am careful and walk lightly, my amorphous blob of experience can stop tripping me up and flattening down into a terse spiral. Instead I can start stretching out, looking up instead of back, and grow in previously unimaginable directions. It is completely up to me to fill my own conscious experiences with light, to let the music back in, and stop giving the bad stuff so much power, until eventually it loses its sharpness and fades.
From here forward, I intend to be created anew with what I love.