2005 seems like a lifetime ago.
In many ways, it was.
As 2005 began, I was herding my five kids around, trying to work a full-time teaching job, inching my way back towards the church, and grieving. Of all those things I was well-aware, except the grief. In the moment, I’m not sure I knew what to call it, how to feel, what to think, or what to hope for. I just knew that my life was wrecked – in large part by my own hand; my kids were in pain; and every passing day seemed like a searing exercise in survival.
Those days hurt. I didn’t call it pain back then; I was confused, and struggling, and burning the candle at both ends. I was lost, mostly. But resilience is an amazing thing, and it seems to me that most of us simply do what has to be done, and slog through the muck, and cry when we need to, all the while holding on to that slim hope that someday, things might not hurt so badly.
I think that was me, 12 years ago. Pain is pain, whether you bring it on yourself or you suffer at the hands on another. Truth be told, seems like it’s always a bit of both, isn’t it? From both ends, my heart hurt.
I look back now and I see that woman – so young, although she felt so old. Just past forty. Somehow finding the wherewithal to buy a house – by herself – and move her little broken family into its sanctuary. I was sleeping alone in a master bedroom that was larger than any one person ever needed – its abundance of space a sometimes bitter reminder of what often felt like desolation. (Eventually, I took the smaller room and moved all three of my daughters into the oversized master – definitely one of my smarter decisions on all fronts.)
Berber carpet and moss green walls; I see it so clearly. And what I’m thinking of tonight is a time when I lay on the floor and sobbed as I listened to Jimmy LaFave sing Walk Away Renee. Maybe you know the song, originally recorded in 1966 by a band I’ve never heard of. If that’s all you know, it’s kind of a throwaway pop tune.
But if you’ve heard Jimmy LaFave sing it, you’ve invited into the deep recesses of a broken heart.
And if it’s your own heart, you might find yourself cracking wide open. When LaFave wraps his raspy voice around the chorus for the last time – and you KNOW it’s the last time, when she’s going to walk away and he’s going to let her go – everything spills over into sorrow.
Just walk away, Renee / No, you won’t see me follow you back home
Now as the rain falls down upon my weary eyes
I start to cry
Just walk away, Renee….please, walk away…
Nobody likes pain. I cried a lot , 12 years ago, but mostly tucked the tears away and leaned hard into just getting things done. That’s what the situation required, and so day after day, that’s what I tried to do. Funny thing is, though; while you think you’re getting it done, there’s a high likelihood that you’re missing a few things along the way.
Maybe a lot of things. Important things.
There are so many times I wasn’t there for my kids, because getting things done meant leaning into my identity as a leader at my workplace. Getting things done put layers and layers upon those things upon my soul, and I am going to tell you the truth right now: 12 years later, I am working on peeling back all that had to get done and figuring out who, exactly, I am. And dealing with some amends that have to be made.
I found out yesterday that Jimmy LaFave has terminal cancer and a short time to live. My thoughts turn to that moment in my bedroom, that season when I played Austin Skyline over and over and over again, exorcising geographical and romantic demons like a warrior.
Except nothing every really got exorcised; that deep wound in my soul is still there, and it throbs and thrums as I listen to Walk Away, Renee in a different house; one that is mostly empty, with a self that’s mostly older and slower. Not much like a warrior any more.
That’s probably a good thing. There’s not much I want to fight these days.
Just four years ago I had the good fortune to see Jimmy LaFave in concert at Ashland Coffee and Tea. He is a tremendous interpreter of American folk music. His voice stirs my soul. And now he’s living with the end in sight.
We all know that life is short; everybody is headed for the same ending. But something about terminal brings everything into a sharper focus. I can’t help but think about all that’s been lost along the way; the tears that still flow as I hear him sing this song are as much about his numbered days ahead and the ones I still count that flow behind me.
A great article about LaFave.