Music and Meaning

I went to see a locally-staged workshopping of some songs from Carner and Gregor’s Island Song cycle by the WCU University Players on Tuesday night. The project highlights the loneliness and alienation that can come in the midst of the excitement and energy of being young in New York, effectively using humorous lyrics and catchy tunes to capture the absurdity that comes from being in that world. I found myself reflecting on the feelings that the pieces invoked in me; I was filled with an eerie feeling of nostalgia and wistful regret as the New York-centric life I had lived between 2000-2003 was put to music. When I mentioned this to the writers after the show, a sudden game of the “I lived in New Haven” “Oh, I used to live in New Haven, too” dance broke out. And so it came out that it should have been no surprise that the show captured that period of my life so succinctly, for Carner was a Yalie a year behind me; this was written from their experience with folks who might have been me.

It is hard, here in the mountains, to live in the present and look to the future, rather than the past. Perhaps it is the lack of work for me, perhaps it is the distance from the challenges facing my friends, perhaps it is just being older and having some fewer possibilities for my life than in those early days. But at the same time, I know, a day apart from the visceral reactions I had in that theater, that those were just highlights of my life in 2000-2003, memorable for their exceptionalism. The question for now, as it was for then, is “what is one’s life in this place?” For me now, there has been a sense of stagnation and loneliness because I have been starved for contact with people thinking about the same religious questions I am; in 2002 it was an office full of people who did not know the name Paul Wellstone.

In 2000, I did not think about the ways in which our place shapes us. I knew I did not want to live in New York, but was otherwise geographically flexible. Now, we find ourselves torn between the elements of our lives that we have longed for and the sense that we are not of this place and may never be. I have thought my call to ministry might include finding people a way to adapt to their own mismatched sense of place. But now I am not sure.

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