Musing with Music: Learning to Live (featuring Dear Saint Isaac)

(Below is a video of my friends Symon Hajjar and John Paul Pope, members of Dear Saint Isaac, performing the song “What if I die.” The following was written as a reaction to the song. It’s my hope that both the article and the song together take the reader to places he or she hasn’t visited, or at least hasn’t visited in a long time. Thanks for reading and thanks for listening.)

I’ll never forget the conversation I overheard one day between two elderly gentlemen. One of them, in his early 90’s, got quickly heated talking about a conflict with his mother going back to when he was 5 years old. I knew this man pretty well; he was exceptionally intelligent and generally cheery. I had never seen him upset before.

I have no idea what the conflict was about, I only caught a few seconds of it and it wasn’t my place to pry, but whatever it was is beside the point—here sat an elderly man still pounding the table over some relationship issue that happened nearly a century ago.

A century ago!

“Oh my God,” I thought to myself afterwards, “this could be me one day: 90 and still captive to pains I experienced in childhood.” What a nightmare. I get upset with myself when I can’t get over something said or done to me 10 minutes ago let alone years ago… let alone 90 years ago! Up to that point I fantasized that old age would naturally lead me to the art of living well.

I like to think that I can get over anything someone does or says to me. It’s my little emotional Medal of Honor; my proof that I rule me, not someone else—I get to decide whether or not I live in peace. And it is true, ultimately I am responsible for whether or not I live a happy life, whether or not I live in peace, whether or not I learn to love and forgive and walk humbly with others, et cetera.

But, responsibility aside, is there any guarantee that any of us will really learn to live before our time is up?

Science is no guide. Faith in oneself alone is a fool’s playground. Even faith in Christ is no guarantee. I believe those who have Christ are better suited for the task than anyone, but that doesn’t erase the subjective variable of the individual and his or her willingness to work it out. One can be a Christian his whole life and never work it out.

And isn’t the need for a guarantee already a guarantee that one is on the wrong track?

Oddly there’s something about the bewilderment of it all that I’ve grown to love, something about the inaccessibility of life for the objectively inclined thinker, something about the mystery of the total story that makes flipping the pages of life exhilarating. What could be duller than a predetermined existence where the ending is assured and life reduced to a long and tiring interlude of triviality before the “real” show? Or what could be more antithetical to life than objective certitude?

I don’t think anybody “learns to live” in the sense that the learning is at some point finished. Living is too dynamic a process to ever be settled psychologically. As the author of Ecclesiastes said, everything has its season; and every season teaches us something new about the whole of life and the part we have to play in it all.

After much thought on the subject since overhearing the two gentlemen, my thinking has changed. I hope that when I’m 90 there are still events and memories in my life that cause me to get fired up—both joy and anger. I want to be at peace with others, so far as is possible, but I don’t want to ever become comfortable with the ‘money changers’ in my head (Matt 21:12). For me, the best way to get to the pain and sort it out is to go looking for it. The worst way is to let the pain find you on its own terms, often when you least expect it.

Will I ever get sorted out? I don’t know. For me the epitome of a life well lived is to attain true humility and love for God, but its attainment is moment by moment, never once-and-for-all.

Song Lyrics:

Everything I try holding up keeps on bringing me down
I wanna have it all together but I’m freaking out
I’m living in a world where everybody’s running like hell
While heaven is standing still

But when I close my eyes
I see a different side

I’m singing
What if I love till my heart gets broken
What if I’m old but I never get sorted out
What if I try and it’s still not working
What if I die without ever learning how to live

Every time I try to do right it ends up proving me wrong
I’m starring at my good intentions like a prison wall
I’m living in a world where everybody’s buying what sells
Like lambs being fed by wolves
Like lambs being led by fools

But when I close my eyes
I see a different side
(Listen here for the music only studio version)

11 thoughts on “Musing with Music: Learning to Live (featuring Dear Saint Isaac)

  1. Hi Eric
    Don’t you think sages and gurus sort it all out? I don’t think you have to go looking for the pain in order to sort it out, but I do believe that if you want to sort it out and not just know that God certainly will/has, then you have to look AT it rarther than FOR it. I grew up being really disturbed (not in the clinical sense, but in the upset sense), by things that surprised me, especially the ones associated with pain. I knew I wanted to master this disturbance and so I never gave up thinking about these events until I understood what it was all about. I have found an understanding that I find very satisfactory. It helps me in so many ways, most importantly, I do not have to get over these incidents by ignoring them or giving it some time (10 minutes, hours, a century!), but can see through it when it occurs.

    Please don’t think I’m boasting – not in the least – I wouldn’t want to dare! I love looking at psychology and have come to realise (to my satisfaction), what motivates people. ‘Know thyself is a great dictum’. It takes the puzzle out of life. This does not create a predetermined existence or objective certitude. It just means you have a handle on life which can be used for the benefit of love. Of course, I can sometimes slip into older ways but soon rectify myself. It is always helpful to read great texts for support while learning, like ‘Disiderata’ amongst many, isn’t it?
    Very best wishes,D.

    BTW in the lyrics above it says ‘I’m STARRING at my good INTENSIONS’, should that read STARING and INTENTIONS or perhaps it’s US spelling.

    • Eric, I forgot to mention that i am referring to other types of pain too. And that the song and article are indeed other good sources of help. Slightly away from the specific topic, I often wonder how many, like me melt into love everytime they hear ‘Oh Love That will Not Let Me Go’.
      Just recently i came across the Gaither Vocal group harmonising it with Joel Rutherford (?) – beautiful. Sorry to ramble but it’s all so moving.

    • dichasium, your personal example is the sort of thing I was talking about. It’s important to seek to confront one’s pains, whether you conceive of it as looking “for” it or “at” it, in order to become the real you. Otherwise we are hopelessly bound to unconscious-conscious conflicts that serve to ruin not only our own peace but those closest to us.

      Do I think gurus and whatnot have themselves sorted out? I suppose there are those out there that have, but I would bet they didn’t do it alone. 🙂

    • No Eric,’No man is an island unto himself’. Hope you didn’t think for a moment that i might be conceited, I don’t think you did 🙂 Nice new piccie of you – why don’t you look at the camera next time and give us all a smile!

  2. I think that sometimes the pain creeps up on you when you are ready. You may be surprised by it but of you didn’t notice it before it was because you weren’t in a place to deal. Maybe maturity. Maybe self preservation.

    • Oh, but the pain suppressed to an unconscious level will creep up on you regardless of if you’re ready for it and it will influence nearly everything you think and do along the way. This is the sort of thing I had in mind. Maturity is indeed something to consider but one matures – in the true sense of the word – when he or she takes the effort to track down their real selves and come to terms with it. This doesn’t have to happen overnight, it may take one’s whole life, but the point is that one is on the trail hunting rather than being hunted.

    • rocketdow, I’ve wondered the same too, even though at times it appears unbearable. I’m sure there’s a biblical comment about God not giving us more than we can bear, and of course Jesus saying ‘learn from me for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Wonderful eh?

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