I attended a funeral yesterday. Amidst the usual comforting platitudes and words from scripture, the minister who presided over the service turned to song lyrics as sources of comfort -- reading the lyrics of one song and playing another for the gathered mourners. While the words of the songs struck me, so, too, did the words of the minister: "Sometimes songs say what we can't say in words."
Now, there was this little snarky part of me that thought, "Well, um, songs are still using words!" But then as I listened to the Avett Brothers and wiped my tears, I realized how lucky songs are. They can put forth all sorts of flowery language, use all kinds of figurative language, and say things via music that I could never walk up to someone and say. If I said it, it would sound cheesy or maybe slightly insane, yet if I sing it, the art of music makes it a source of comfort and even strength. The mourning family who had chosen "Please Pardon Yourself" not only found some slight sense of solace in this song but also let their friends and family into their grief in a way that words could never do. By playing this song, they essentially said, "Here's what we're going through."
It made me think, too, how often I've turned to music and let certain songs become defined by events in my life. Sometimes, yes, those events are happy events. There are certain songs forever linked with moments of total joy in my life -- "What I Am" by Edie Brickell instantly takes me back to a table at Alfano's Pizza with my best gal pals from high school. I hear "Layla" and I am instantly surrounded by my college friends. Just about any Phish song becomes a moment of bliss as I am transported to shows, parking lots, or living rooms where Phish was once played.
Sometimes, though, the music brings to mind sadder times -- lost loves, lost friendships, tragedy, and despair. The reason why that music brings those times to mind, though, is because it is music I've turned to as a guide through the pain. When my father died, I listened to American Beauty on a near constant basis for days and weeks on end. There was this sense that someone out there knew what I was going through. Someone had felt my pain and found a way through it. They did it -- I could, too.
There is a reason why music is a constant in my life. It brings me peace, comfort, solace, joy, and so much more. How lucky we all are that someone somewhere in time figured out how to make music -- and decided to share it. When everything else around us may seem to be falling apart, there is comfort in knowing that there's a song that will bring a smile to our faces, a tear to our eyes, or just let us forget even for just a few minutes.