It is a line in a song that has tugged like a dog at my heel for six months. My daughter Jasmine introduced me to Needtobreathe and their catchy mantras that so often seep in. Difference Maker is an inspirational song in a vocation like mine. Wasteland’s paraphrase of Romans 8:31 and steal from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem has seen me through a dark day or two.
In the summer the line “but we don’t get to be here long” resonated deep. I guess I am 55 and looking ahead with a weaker grip on my mortality. I remember driving around in the car with my family realising that we should make the most of our time. Indeed, “we don’t get to be here long.”
Later in the year Jonatha Brooke would give us another angle on the same thought. Her Midnight Hallelujah record really caught my attention. Among songs about guns and God and mental illness there were a couple of beautiful love songs. In Too Much Happiness she sings:
It's too much happiness, my love true
Too much happiness, too much happiness
And too little time with you.
Limited time is again on her mind. In her heart, indeed.
Then suddenly, as that is bubbling around, my mother passes away. Punched in the soul. Right off my feet. As someone said to me, everything around you seems irrelevant. Priorities of living go into a spin, like every other part of you.
It was not lost on me that the Needtobreathe mantra “but we don’t get to be here long” had been written in grief. It was a song about the passing of their Grandmother.
Another song of grief that takes a similar angle is Can’t Cry Hard Enough, written by David Williams of The Williams Brothers along with Marvin Etzioni and made famous by Victoria Williams and Julie Miller. The Williams’ song goes:
“I'm gonna live my life
Like everyday's the last
Without a simple goodbye
It all goes by so fast
And now that you're gone
I can't cry hard enough”
Living every day like it is your last. Grief can inspire that. The realisation that this life is exactly as the ancient Scriptures say, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103: 15-16).
I look back on 2016 and feel light beaming from behind me. I was blessed with many things in my ministry in Fitzroy, the Stockies had an amazing trip to Uganda, we had another good 4 Corners Festival, Fr Martin Magill and I had the thrill of doing a speaking tour of Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, we were awarded Civic Leadership Award by the CRC, I got to speak at my old school's Prize Day and read poetry at Catalyst Live, among many other blessings.
Yet, I am also too aware of the shadows cast. As I step into 2017, I am stepping into the unknown. Every year is unknown but my mother’s passing and my dad’s dementia have ripped anchors from my life. Every day is more unknown than ever these days.
And as I reacclimatise to life, as it now will be, Needtobreathe sing in the ear of my soul…. we don’t get to be here long.
So love your loved ones
Live your vocation
Seek peace not friction
Create joy not despair
Be a force for the good of the world
Live every day like it might be your last
Live life and life in all its fulness - 10:10!
We don’t get to be here long.