A Safety in the End

Ever since I heard the howling wind
I didn’t need to go where a bible went
But then you know your gifts seemed heaven-sent
Just lead me to a choler, dad, that’s the thing
I don’t know how you house the sin

(But you’re free now)
I was never sure how much of you I could let in
(Am I free now)
Won’t you settle down baby here
your love has been
Heavenly father
has brought you a lover
Why you don’t carry other names?
Heavenly father
is whose brought to His autumn
& love is left in end…

When I finally hit rock-bottom late last year, I finally understood what my mom meant when she said: Don’t cry, you’ll make yourself sick. She used to say it when I was a child, whenever I was particularly upset about something, like a feud among childhood friends or a failed final paper. After everything finally imploded, I promptly developed a 39-degree fever & my whole face hurt from the non-stop crying. I stayed in bed for days: miserable, unconsolable, shame-stricken, guilt-ridden. & then I heard this song.

Maybe it was that unexpected scream that Justin Vernon let out right in the middle of the song. Maybe it was that line & the flighty harmonies that came with it: “I don’t know how you house the sin (but you’re free now)“. Maybe it was the 12 years in Catholic school & how the stately nominal “Heavenly Father” – so foreign to me lately – hit somewhere raw & latent underneath, the reverence & awe of it all… but anyway, something made me seize up, stop, listen. What a grotesque, utter cry of defeat. It was as if someone had knocked the wind right out of my chest & I clicked the replay button again & again, let the emotion brought out by this 4-minute song wash over me as I curled up in bed & squeezed my eyes shut.

& so I found myself at the same place that Justin Vernon was at a few years ago after the groundbreaking success of For Emma, Forever Ago & Bon Iver, Bon Iver – at the end of himself.

“This spectacular upheaval of life after these albums provoked an inner storm, a mental sickness of anxiety for Justin. Of course it did. The dream had taken on its own life. It all came to a head on an empty Atlantic beach. I bore witness to my best friend crying in my arms, lost in a world of confusion & removal. Justin could barely talk… The forecast that begins this next Bon Iver undertaking is a reminder of our fragile existence. How when everything appears stable, it may crumble & fall through our fingers. How do we hold on to what is important? How do we make sense of the events that rip us apart? What choices do we have & how do we make them? It was the beginning of an unwinding of an immense knot inside… & the inner-resolution of maybe never finding that understanding.”
(Trevor Hagen, close friend of Justin Vernon)

I recognise that process because it is mine as well. Almost always, it starts with the beginning of the end, where one has gone through an emotional whirlwind & is in thrall to a very human sentiment: I’m done. Completely wrecked, bruised, ruined. & yes, it feels like you’ll never muster the strength to crawl out of the pit, but hey, can I let you in on something? & I only say this after complete annihilation of self & spirit – This too shall pass. Take comfort in the fact that the feeling slowly but surely fades & when it is over, there is a sure arrival to the most quintessential question: Now what?

& before you know it, there it is – & I am beginning to taste the reality of it, finally, a few months into the new year – a soft, glowing hope of what’s to come. Goodness. Restoration. Peace. It is what the darkness promises – a safety in the light in the end.

“This is not the sound of a new man
or crispy realisation
It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away
Your love will be
Safe with me”
(RE: Stacks, Bon Iver)

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