How Does the Song Go? – Kol Nidre 5780 (2019)

Let’s start with Brene Brown’s book of a few years ago ‘Daring Greatly.’ The title comes from a famous Theodore Roosevelt speech – Citizenship in a Republic – presented at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910. Here are Roosevelt’s words:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…

And here’s Dr Brown’s opening take on TR’s stirring words:

This is vulnerability. Everything I’ve learned from over a decade of research on vulnerability has taught me this exact lesson. Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.

And a bit more: Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with out vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.

Tonight, I want to explore vulnerability – yours, mine, ours – with you. I want to dig into Brene Brown’s big categories with you: courage and clarity, fear and disconnection, engagement and vulnerability.

And to get at that web of emotions and values, I want to dip into words that are precious to me, words that, with their accompanying music, have kept me company for many decades. Perhaps they’ve accompanied you on your journey as well…

It’s all on the accompanying handout…

0DF498F7-6E09-4B48-AEAD-CDFEFEB40C4C

Robert Hunter z”l – GD’s lyricist and songwriter, author and composer of many of that band’s most beloved songs.

Ripple – a vulnerability prayer. “It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken, perhaps they’re better left unsung. I don’t know, don’t really care, Let there be songs to fill the air…”

Also a prayer about yearning and engagement. “Reach out your hand if your cup is empty, if your cup be full may it be again.”

Also a prayer about wonder and mystery. “Let it be known there is a fountain that was not made by the hand of men.”

And, finally, a prayer about paradox. “You who choose to lead must follow but if you fall you fall alone; If you should stand then who’s to guide you? If I knew the way I would take you home.”

On RH I shared with you four lunar lessons. Tonight, with Robert Hunter’s help, I’d like to pose four questions for us to take on this road between the dawn and the dark of night.

what I want to know, is are you kind?

what I want to know, will you come with me?

what I want to know, where does the time go?

what I want to know, how does the song go?

Hunter’s fir kashes are all about vulnerability and engagement. The lead in to the 3rd question strikes me as especially important – ‘Like the morning sun you come and like the wind you go; ain’t no time to hate, barely time to wait, wo oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?’

How does the song go? Our lives are a song, one that we compose as we go. Bruce Chatwin’s great book The Songlines traces the aboriginal practice of walking and singing one’s one songline in an act of self discovery and coming of age. My songline is infused with a whole lot of Robert Hunter’s words.

The Wheel – choice of engagement – ‘You can’t let go and you can’t hold on. You can’t go back and you can’t stand still.’ So we are, each of us, on that wheel. I really don’t know whether Hunter ever read Heschel, but a beautiful essay of Heschel’s focused on Prayer teaches much the same about vulnerability and perspective. “We do not step out of the world when we pray; (prayer too is an act of engagement!) we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub, but the spoke of the revolving wheel. ‘Every time the wheel turn ‘round, Bound to cover just a little more ground.’ Amen!

For much the same length of time, Toni Morrison’s vivid and rich words have also kept me company. As we mark and mourn her passing two months ago, let these powerful thoughts wash over you…

Q: Do you write to figure out exactly how you feel about a subject? A: No, I know how I feel. My feelings are the result of prejudices and convictions like everybody else’s. But I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea. It is not “this is what I believe,” because that would not be a book, just a tract. A book is “this may be what I believe, but suppose I am wrong . . . what could it be?” Or, “I don’t know what it is, but I am interested in finding out what it might mean to me, as well as to other people.”

“The idea of the place is visionary, is change, throbs with life and leans toward the edge. The idea of the place is burrowing into the heart of a theory, of a concept, casting its gaze toward the limitlessness of the universe, not merely moving toward the future but in certain instances driving it. The idea of the place despises those forces in academic institutions so fearful of independent thought, so alarmed by challenge they prefer oblivion, irrelevance, rather than shoulder the hard responsibilities of change.”

Back to Brene Brown:

“Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times.”

A lot like Yom Kippur itself, which is about courage and uncomfortable, utterly subversive vulnerability. Brene Brown invites us, though, to consider the alternative which she describes as “standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.”

Show up this Yom Kippur (and every day after this YK as well) and let yourself be seen by and to yourself. It is only the women and men in the arena, who know great enthusiasms and who strive valiantly, who get to find out how the song goes. None of us knows the way; our only shot at going home is to take one another by the hand and hit the road.

Tonight’s last word belongs to Robert Hunter,  my very favorite of all of his lyrics –

‘Once in while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.’ Perhaps you’ll get shown the light in this strange place on this Kol Nidre. I very much hope so.

L’shana tova tikateivu v’teihateimu – לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו


Kol Nidre 5780 (2019)

Words (and some music) by Robert Hunter z”l

Ripple

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine

And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung

Would you hear my voice come through the music

Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken

Perhaps they’re better left unsung

I don’t know, don’t really care

Let there be songs to fill the air

Ripple in still water

When there is no pebble tossed

Nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty

If your cup is full may it be again

Let it be known there is a fountain

That was not made by the hands of men

There is a road, no simple highway

Between the dawn and the dark of night

And if you go no one may follow

That path is for your steps alone

Ripple in still water

When there is no pebble tossed

Nor wind to blow

You who choose to lead must follow

But if you fall you fall alone

If you should stand then who’s to guide you?

If I knew the way I would take you home

 

Uncle John’s Band

Well the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry any more,

Cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door.

Think this through with me, let me know your mind,

Wo, oh, what I want to know, is are you kind?

It’s a buck dancer’s choice my friend; better take my advice.

You know all the rules by now and the fire from the ice.

Will you come with me? won’t you come with me?

Wo, oh, what I want to know, will you come with me?

Goddamn, well I declare, have you seen the like?

Their walls are built of cannonballs, their motto is “don’t tread on me”.

Come hear uncle John’s band playing to the tide,

Come with me, or go alone, he’s come to take his children home.

It’s the same story the crow told me; it’s the only one he knows.

Like the morning sun you come and like the wind you go.

Ain’t no time to hate, barely time to wait,

Wo, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?

I live in a silver mine and I call it beggar’s tomb;

I got me a violin and I beg you call the tune,

Anybody’s choice, I can hear your voice.

Wo, oh, what I want to know, how does the song go?

Come hear uncle John’s band by the riverside,

Got some things to talk about, here beside the rising tide.

Come hear uncle John’s band playing to the tide,

Come on along, or go alone, he’s come to take his children home.

Wo, oh, what I want to know, how does the song go.

 

The Wheel (lyrics by Robert Hunter z”l)

The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down,

You can’t let go and you can’t hold on,

You can’t go back and you can’t stand still,

If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will.

Small wheel turn by the fire and rod,

Big wheel turn by the grace of God,

Every time that wheel turn ’round,

Bound to cover just a little more ground.

The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down,

You can’t let go and you can’t hold on,

You can’t go back and you can’t stand still,

If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will.

Won’t you try just a little bit harder,

Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?

Won’t you try just a little bit harder,

Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?

We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub, but the spoke of the revolving wheel. [Abraham Joshua Heschel “Prayer” (1945)]

 

…and more Hunter lines:

Well, I ain’t always right but I’ve never been wrong

Seldom turns out the way it does in a song

Once in a while you get shown the light

In the strangest of places if you look at it right…

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me,

Other times I can barely see.

Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been…

 

Q: Do you write to figure out exactly how you feel about a subject? A: No, I know how I feel. My feelings are the result of prejudices and convictions like everybody else’s. But I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea. It is not “this is what I believe,” because that would not be a book, just a tract. A book is “this may be what I believe, but suppose I am wrong . . . what could it be?” Or, “I don’t know what it is, but I am interested in finding out what it might mean to me, as well as to other people.” [Toni Morrison, The Art of Fiction, No. 134, The Paris Review 128: Fall 1993]

The idea of the place is visionary, is change, throbs with life and leans toward the edge. The idea of the place is burrowing into the heart of a theory, of a concept, casting its gaze toward the limitlessness of the universe, not merely moving toward the future but in certain instances driving it. The idea of the place despises those forces in academic institutions so fearful of independent thought, so alarmed by challenge they prefer oblivion, irrelevance, rather than shoulder the hard responsibilities of change. [Toni Morrison, Princeton 250th Anniversary Convocation, October 25, 1996]

 

Wo, oh, what I want to know, how does the song go?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s