Monday, February 24, 2020

Meaning and Perspective

Today is never an easy day for me. It's a little easier every year, but it's never easy. On this day, a number of years ago, I unexpectedly lost my father. Without going into too many details, his last forty hours on this side of life were full of emotional turbulence. He was not conscious for the bulk of it, but for those around him, it was a difficult ride full of twists and sudden turns. The one thing that comes back to me every time, though, is a simple set of lyrics, and in hindsight, I learned a lot about meaning and perspective from that forty-hour stretch.

I got the call early Saturday morning that my father was in the hospital. Not many details, just the typical, "You better get over there fast" call. Well, getting over there fast was a two-hour drive, which had all the nervousness of sitting in place combined with the risks of driving a car 65 miles per hour down a toll road while fraught with anxiety. Frankly, everyone along I-90 is lucky they survived my commute.

My father back in 2007, carrying around
my head for good luck.
Which brings me to the lyrics. The song, "Shadow of the Day" by Linkin Park was all the rage on the Top 40 stations, so it got air time constantly. During my drive of anxiety, the last thing I was concerned about was finding the right music, so I left it where it was - a Top 40 station. This means that during my two-hour drive, I heard that song at least once and often twice. Through that time, one particular stanza stands out:
And the shadow of the day
Will embrace the world in gray
And the sun will set for you
Now, does this stanza mean something to you? Maybe it has deep meaning, or maybe it has enough movement for you to understand what it is getting at. However, as my mood changed during my driving, those lyrics changed.

My first trip to the hospital was mired in anxiety and the threat of loss, so these lyrics offered the threat of loss, of death. For two hours I asked myself whether my father was already dead; had his sun set? Well, he was still alive. Eight hours of surgery and all kinds of procedures, but this stubborn Army veteran made it. He would be touch and go for a few days, but he had survived something that should've killed him before he hit the operating table.

Driving home that night, the song comes on again, and now I am thinking about mortality. At some point, my father will die, but now I had time to embrace that idea, to get used to that eventual future. The lyrics meant something new because I was in a new place.

After an unsettled sleep, I again drove the two hours to see how he was doing. Again, the song comes on, and my more collected self thinks about the stages of life, and how as each new stage starts, an old stage fades to gray. My father would likely never be quite the same man again. For a man in his mid-70s, recovery would be a struggle that might take the cheer from his face. He would enter old age now, and need some attention. Life was changing, and the sun had set on the previous era.

About a half-hour after I arrived, his heart rate crashed and he died. After settling what to do and making the first arrangements for the funeral, I drove home. That damn song came on. I knew exactly what it meant. It was death. Finality. It was over.

As a writer, I think about that moment a lot. When I write a piece, the words change depending on the mood I create in the narrative. The same description can become many things depending on whether it's upbeat, somber, or whatever. It's like sarcasm - it survives on content, and dies without mood. When you incorporate mood, look at how the words are influenced. It can be a very powerful tool in a writer's kit.

My thanks to Linkin Park for the song, and to Dad for those extra forty hours - I'll remember them forever.


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