September 14, 2014
From time to time my father would remark that the more things change the more they are the same. As a child I thought that was nonsense. I now know better.
This week I experienced an interesting example of this odd pattern in life that prompts me today to do more thinking about the subject of last week’s blog. Last week I talked about the resistance (and bewilderment) people sometimes display in response to information from the deep inner centers of the brain.
It amused me to point out that long before neuroscientists were talking about the limbic system, people were describing in grass-roots music (country western, in this case) their frustration in managing information the limbic system provided.
I used as an example a 1945 country-western jukebox favorite titled “Detour: Muddy Road Ahead,” in which the song writer wailed with characteristic nasal melancholy about the terrible things that had happened in his life journey as a result of his failure to act in response to a detour sign.
The lyrics indicated that the writer had seen the sign, but had acted as through it were not there, or as though he had not understood the message, and trouble had certainly resulted.
The lyrics made clear that the detour sign at issue was not an actual wood and metal highway sign, and the muddy road was not a literal unpaved country lane, but that the heart-ache, nevertheless, was all too real.
This week I experienced a seasonal attack of house-wifery impulses and while sweeping, I bumped a cabinet and knocked a CD to the floor. When I picked it up I saw that it was Norah Jones’s album “Come Away with Me.”
It had been roughly a decade since I purchased that CD (c 2004), and I had not played it for several years. The CD appeared to offer more interesting possibilities than housecleaning, so I sat down to listen.
The first track is titled “Don’t Know Why I Didn’t Come” (Jesse Harris).
Riveted by sound and lyrics I listened to the first track several times, back to back, sweeping forgotten. There is a haunting quality to Jones’s voice, and sheer artistry in her piano, but it was the lyrics that caught me, mind into heart.
I waited ‘til I saw the sunI don’t know why I didn’t comeI left you by the house of funI don’t know why I didn’t comeI don’t know why I didn’t comeWhen I saw the break of dayI wished that I could fly awayInstead of kneeling in the sandCatching teardrops in my hand-------------------------------------Something has to make you runI don’t know why I didn’t comeI feel as empty as a drumI don’t know why I didn’t comeI don’t know why I didn’t comeI don’t know why I didn’t come.
A sixty year span of time with everything different—style of music, harmonic structure, rhythms—both the music and the singer four wildly innovative generations beyond that detour sign. But for all the differences, something the same—that same sense of bewildered sadness, that same sense of choice made by necessity beyond rational logic, beyond explanation.
Words are inadequate to describe music—music embodies a space where language cannot come. But the underlying human dilemma carried by the music caught the attention of the brain centers in my cortex. Those centers do have language, and they clearly said something like this:
“See! There are those irrational limbic center responses again. If this person foolishly kneeling on the sand at sunrise was there crying but couldn’t explain why she was there, then what is the matter? Is this upset-ness because she did not go, or because she does not know why she did not go wherever it was she didn’t go? And if she couldn’t think of a reason to stay where she was, then why didn’t she go? Anytime those limbic signals are taken seriously, trouble results. You would think that people would learn.”
I listened to myself, but my Watcher (conscious self-monitoring) is not always biased to the cortex point of view. The Watcher understands the value of logic, but understands something of its dangers too. There are times when the logic and language centers of the cortex display a distinctly narcissistic tendency and insist that all human wisdom centers in them.
Thinking with you that encouraging the Watcher (conscious observer of self-functioning) to keep an eye on the function of both the cortex and the limbic system might be wise. Perhaps in the end that’s what discipleship and maturity are all about.
See you next week.