"Won't you give us a song yourself now, grandfather?" said I.
"I will not refuse you," he said, smiling.
- Maurice O'Sullivan, Twenty Years A-Growing
* * *
I cannot walk past a book shop with out pining to go in. So, one day, a summer day, lost to the annals of great things done and undone, a muggy hot day with a yolk yellow sun, I was walking north on Michigan Avenue, on the west side of the street, across from the park that lead to the Art Institute of Chicago to the east of me. The sidewalk there is exceptionally wide and given the heat and the sun, the cement baked the feet of all who walked upon it. In need of distraction and a chance to get out of the sun I walked into a rare book shop to see what was there. I do not frequent rare book shops for two reasons: 1) there would be a stream of books I'd want to buy and 2) I don't have the money to quench that thirst. But on this day, this sunny, hot, oppressive sort of day 25 years ago I walked in to escape the heat. It was beautiful in there - dark and leathery with fine prints on the walls and a heavy, clerckish sort of man with sloping shoulders stood behind the counter, a yellow bow tie under his chin, however, being self-conscious that I had $20 to my name, I quickly moved past the glass cases and lock and key books and found a niche of what, to them, was their bargain bin: books under $50. A well of embarrassment came over me and my neck prickled and ticked with nervous sweat - You don't belong here. But I stayed and lingered over the books I could touch and tucked in among them was a small book, no more that six inches high and three across. It was a book about Ireland, a childhood in Ireland at the start of the 20th Century. It was $10 and I split my last few dollars to get it. I had to buy the book for no other reason than to beat back my shame at being broke. Of course, the book temporarily made me poorer still, but it was a more than fair trade. It has been part of my life since.
* * *
Won't you give us a song yourself?
I am hard-pressed to know of a more direct and vital question: Won't you give us a song yourself? Now.
All that I write about is there in that question - won't you give us a song?
In order to give a song, you have to know the lyrics and melody, you have to love a song enough to be able to sing it, you have to lose your self-consciousness about how others might receive it and simply allow yourself to give it.
But that is simply what life is asking you each and every day. Each day you are afforded the chance to answer the questions life puts before you. Each day you are presented with the opportunity to choose how you will respond to those questions. If you are fucked and stuck and going nowhere, if your shame is greater than your will, if you know and don't do, well, that's what defines being fucked, no?
Just as I am hard-pressed to know of a more direct and vital question, I am at a loss as to know of a better answer: I will not refuse you.
Joe Campbell says: "Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered, for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or 'culture,' the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved."
The answer must always be: I will not refuse you (which means you will not refuse yourself the chance to know this adventure, this experience of being here, now, present and accounted for, willing to give what you have to give). But the distance isn't covered until you can say so while smiling.
* * *
There are countless good reasons to worry, to sweat how you are going to provide for yourself, your kids, how to keep your job and keep the lights on. If that's no worry for you, then there are other things that will occupy your mind (investments, the cost of college, retirement, etc) and keep your nose to the grindstone, or there is a loss, an illness, a death and I will not diminish or make light of those trials. They are real and they occupy a large and sometimes painful space in our lives. All I ask is won't you give us a song, something of yourself that is not attached to worry, that is not prosaic, but is, instead, essential. Despair comes as easily as opening a newspaper or looking at your Facebook feed. It is overwhelming and dire in many regards. It can only be answered with a song, your song, the song of your life.
What will you sing?
Do not refuse us.
* * *
I went out to the hazel wood,Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.