Tag Archives: The National

Breaking news from the hospice: “Virulent Happiness”

On Friday, my friend E told PW from her hospice bed, “I’d like a visit from Lucy, and I’m making this request in the strongest possible terms allowable by Christian theology. I guess at Emmanuel Church that gives me a wide berth, huh?” Then she chuckled.

So yesterday around noon, I arrived at E’s room with Lucy’s leash in one hand and a large white pizza with spinach in the other. We had a grand time.

At one point, E said, “I always try to take the time to be open to the possibility that I might be wrong. For instance, this morning when I woke up, I felt like this would be a dreadful day. And then I thought, ‘But maybe I’m wrong!’ And then you called and made my day. This exercise saves me from a lot of anxiety, and probably explains why I’m so virulently happy.”

Ever the writer, she caught herself using an unusual adjective. She added, “I don’t think I mean ‘virulently happy.’ I think I mean ‘vibrantly happy.'”

Mindful of my waning Spring funk, I suggested that if happiness spread throughout the land like a virulent infection, that might be a really good thing.

“Yes,” E nodded. “That would be a very good thing!”

When I wondered what Psong would be next in my Lenten discipline, the blender of my Joybrain gobbled up E’s “virulent happiness” as she stares down the last days/weeks/months of her life, and by the time I got to the Off switch, the result was the Psong “Runaway” by The National.

Lyrics:

There’s no saving anything
Now we’re swallowing the shine of the sun
There’s no saving anything
How we swallow the sun

But I won’t be no runaway
‘Cause I won’t run
No I wont be no runaway

What makes you think I’m enjoying being led to the flood?
We got another thing coming undone
And its taking us over
We don’t bleed when we don’t fight
Go ahead, go ahead
Throw your arms in the air tonight

We don’t bleed when we don’t fight
Go ahead, go ahead
Lose our shirts in the fire tonight

What makes you think I’m enjoying being led to the flood?
We got another thing coming undone

But I won’t be no runaway
‘Cause I won’t run
No I won’t be no runaway
‘Cause I won’t run
No I won’t be no runaway

What makes you think im enjoying being led to the flood?
We got another thing coming undone
And it’s taking us over

We don’t bleed when we don’t fight
Go ahead, go ahead
Throw your arms in the air tonight

We don’t bleed when we don’t fight
Go ahead, go ahead
Lose our shirts in the fire tonight

What makes you think I’m enjoying being led to the flood?
We got another thing coming undone
We got another thing coming undone
And it’s taking forever

I’ll go braving everything
With you swallowing the shine of the sun
I’ll go braving everything
Through the shine of the sun

But I won’t be no runaway
‘Cause I won’t run
No I won’t be no runaway
‘Cause I won’t run
No I won’t be no runaway

What makes you think I’m enjoying being led to the flood?
We got another thing coming undone
And it’s taking us over
We don’t bleed when we don’t fight
Go ahead, go ahead
Throw your arms in the air tonight
We don’t bleed when we don’t fight
Go ahead, go ahead
Lose our shirts in the fire tonight

What makes you think I’m enjoying being led to the flood?
We got another thing coming undone
We got another thing coming undone
And it’s taking us over
And it’s taking forever

Some things we carry

On Friday mornings, I am the Middle School Carpool Mom for GForce and 2 other kids in the neighborhood.  Friday mornings I don’t make any attempt to look presentable, so I’m usually in my dog walking uniform: Red Sox hat pulled down over my fright wig, dark green fleece pullover on top of a garish purple and yellow tie dye t-shirt that I got at my 20th college reunion, jeans, and whatever slip-on shoes I can find.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a 21st Century June Cleaver.

The other family we carpool with has a son in 8th grade and a daughter in 6th grade.  The daughter hates being late and is usually very prompt in getting down to the car, but the son is always lagging behind, sometimes as many as 5 minutes later than the daughter.  When he finally arrives, he often introduces a loud cloud of cologne or L’Air de Moth Balls into the car.  On occasion, I have to open the windows because the smell is so intense.

This morning, Boy lumbered down the long set of stairs to the driveway wearing pajama pants and lugging a small guitar amplifier in one hand, and a stuffed bear backpack/lunchbox in the other.  His regular backpack with all his school stuff was dangling precipitously off his shoulder. GForce usually plays DJ on my iPod during the morning ride, and today she was in the mood for the band, “The National.”  She picked a perfect song for these middle schoolers, I thought as I listened to the pounding drums, the weirdly deep voice of the lead singer, the curious way he has of packing so many words into a melodic line, and the lyrics:

“You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends
When you pass them at night under the silvery, silvery Citibank lights
Arm in arm in arm and eyes and eyes glazing under
Oh, you wouldn’t want an angel watching over
Surprise, surprise they wouldn’t wanna watch
Another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults”

– from the song “Mistaken for Strangers” on The National’s 2007 album “The Boxer”  

When we got to school, the kids got out of the car, and I sat for awhile and watched Boy lumber into the building with his heavy school backpack on his shoulder, his amp in one hand, and the fluffy stuffed bear lunchbox/backpack thingy in the other.  It occurred to me that he was perhaps unwittingly illustrating the central riddle of adolescence: how do you move forward when one foot is on the skateboard of youth and the other foot is in one of those non-skid toddler socks?

Hours later I’m thinking that he was demonstrating what change and growth are like in general.  In one hand we’re carrying the way things were or the way we thought they were until we just recently found out that they’re nothing like we thought.  In the other hand we’re carrying the way things are or the way we hope they will be.  And on our backs, we’ve brought along whatever we haven’t yet figured out how to put down.

All my daughters are either in the midst of big transitions or rapidly approaching big transitions.  And then I think, well, so are PW and I, only in different ways.  Come to think of it, so is everyone else I can think of.  Maybe transition is the central riddle of being alive:  breathing in and breathing out; picking up and putting down; holding close and letting go; reaching and stretching for things in different directions.

Friends of mine have just become the parents of twins.  Another friend’s brother is in hospice.  Another friend’s sister just died this morning.  A childhood friend wrote me last night to say that his brother is having his foot amputated and would I please remember him to my parents and my brothers.  Another childhood friend is struggling with the breakup from the one woman he thought he might marry.  This is just a fraction of the emotional air I’m breathing today; I haven’t even gotten to my family yet!

Each of us is a hub through which pass not merely our own transitions, but the life transitions of the people we love, or the people we know and struggle to love, or the loved ones of the people we love, or the long-time friends we recently re-discovered or…

It’s a lot to carry.

Patty Larkin with Greg Brown singing “Here” from Larkin’s latest album “25”