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Tears Came Today

Tears Came Today

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

Robert Frost

For a Dancer

Jackson Browne, 1974

Before I expound on the treasure trove of insight that Jackson Browne has always been for me, please, take a journey with me and spend a few minutes with the song.  Click on the link so it opens in the background and read along below.

Carefully listen to the lyrics he lays down and ponder how profound they are. Remember what you thought of them way back when you first heard them in 1974.  Have your thoughts on life and death moved on with the times of your life?  How have you changed?  Has being witness to the passage of time and the passing of others made you more, or less, reflective?

“Keep a fire burning in your eye
Pay attention to the open sky
You never know what will be coming down

I don’t remember losing track of you
You were always dancing in and out of view
I must have thought you’d always be around

Always keeping things real by playing the clown
Now you’re nowhere to be found

I don’t know what happens when people die
I can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
That I can’t sing
I can’t help listening

And I can’t help feeling stupid standing ’round
Crying as they ease you down
‘Cause I know that you’d rather we were dancing

Dancing our sorrow away
Right on dancing


No matter what fate chooses to play (There’s nothing you can do about it anyway)
Just do the steps that you’ve been shown
By everyone you’ve ever known

Until the dance becomes your very own
No matter how close to yours
Another’s steps have grown
In the end, there is one dance you’ll do alone

Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down

Perhaps a better world is drawing near
Just as easily, it could all disappear
Along with whatever meaning you might have found

Don’t let the uncertainty turn you around (The world keeps turning around and around)


Go on and make a joyful sound

Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive, but you’ll never know”

I was barely past the suicidal teenage abyss that many of us suffered through when Jackson Browne appeared in our music-fueled fantasies that constituted our emerging lives back then.  Vietnam was ending after having committed our formative DNA to the anti-war movement and political fallout that ensued.  We were just in college (sorta) smoking a lot of weed, imbibing on mescaline-enhanced flights of fantasy, and having revelations that we were sure were profound truths. These were the answers to questions that humans had been intoning for millennia.  In many respects we were right; some of the insights we garnered were, in fact, new-think and have endured as lasting, positive, changes that those of us who came through, incorporated into our makeups.

Browne’s very first verse, now, in the backward-looking glass, seems like the clarion call of youth personified. Wake up!  Pay attention!  There are marvelous and unthought-of things yet to come!

Keep a fire burning in your eye
Pay attention to the open sky
You never know what will be coming down”

My sister Nan, our friend Larry, and I would sit around our various flop-houseish apartments baking bowls, nodding out to Jackson Browne, and marveling how his voice and his lyrics literally captured the mood of the masses.  He swept us three away, night after night, on the strings of his soaringly sad violins.  We knew he was calling….to the masses…to his public…but mostly just to us, his three simple disciples grappling through the fog of our THC haze searching for a meaning to all that was unfolding in our young lives.

I have kept Jackson Browne in my Life Playlist ever since, dipping into nostalgia and remembrance when I feel the compulsion. But, I keep it limited as I age and as these ponderous pandemic times are through-out us.  Even then, in those decades so long relegated to the past, we called his melodic musing “Suicide Music” for the achingly sad and mournful emotions it would evoke in us.  His music takes up a major part of my Top Ten all-time favorites.   Yes, one could posit out that my morosity is borderline pathologic, but I simply feel it well-earned and a comfortable place to rest my weary soul upon occasion.

“I don’t remember losing track of you
You were always dancing in and out of view
I must have thought you’d always be around

Always keeping things real by playing the clown
Now you’re nowhere to be found”

I lost both my sister and our friend Larry this past year, both too soon. In so very many ways I really don’t exactly recall losing track of either of them.  Larry wandered away and had a life of his own; we touched electronic fingertips through Facebook once in the latter years.  And then he was gone.

My sister and I remained in touch; good, solid, touch, for over sixty years. We clung to small touchstones of familiarity (see Losing the Laughter), maintaining our forged-early connective tissue even in the face of smoldering disease and house-afire family strife.  She left life on her own terms, despite what Parkinson’s had otherwise in mind for her. 

And I am left here on earth without either of them, ”…playing the clown, now they’re nowhere to be found…”

And here is where Jackson Browne takes flight into the skies of lyric ascendency:

“I don’t know what happens when people die
I can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
That I can’t sing
I can’t help listening”

This verse, simplistic and soaring all at once, dives into the heart of each of us as we ponder death, loss, empty hearts, and a void that swallows eternity and encroaches on the edges of our own tenuous mortality if we give it even a second of attention.  But none of us, no one, “we can’t stop listening” …to the sound that’s right in our ears, the sound of our own ends, roaring upon us like cat’s paws; seemingly padded and gentle along with a purr but harboring a sharp claw of reality if we stray away from the point at hand…..”what happens when people die?”  What happens when we die?

But we move on.  We must.  It is what the living do.  It is what we remaining behind must do.  Keep an eye on the open sky.  You never know…….

It this Age of Covid, there are no funerals, no gatherings, no mournful dirges, no fits of nervous laughter, no gentle tugs and tales of past times that begin to dry the tears and morph them into laughter; that first step towards the new normal; the one with our loved one’s physically not around us but now a part of our electronic memory boards forever.

“And I can’t help feeling stupid standing ’round
Crying as they ease you down
‘Cause I know that you’d rather we were dancing

Dancing our sorrow away
Right on dancing”

And so, our tears, even at a distance, are reminders that you, our fellow travelers for so long, while not standing beside us…exactly…are lilting about, urging on to the dance; the dance we have always done together and now, they are an admonition to us to “dance our sorrows away, right on dancing.”

And then Browne takes his inevitable turn towards the profound; hopeless? resolved? realistic? acceptant…..and then fatalistically and finally macabre.  Not macabre in a horror movie genre but a deeply humanistic, “truth-for-all”, revelatory, macabre.  A simple truth for us all.  “In the end there is one dance we do alone.”

Profound and Perfect 

“No matter what fate chooses to play (There’s nothing you can do about it anyway)
Just do the steps that you’ve been shown
By everyone you’ve ever known

Until the dance becomes your very own
No matter how close to yours
Another’s steps have grown
In the end, there is one dance you’ll do alone”

I found this one truth a horrific, simplistic, and basal lesson and I found it to be the most profound.  He is saying that as we age, as our family of men and women leave us behind, if we’re lucky, if we are really paying attention, if we are really absorbing what the process looks and feels like as those who are navigating their way through this pathway to forever are demonstrating for us, for our benefit Then maybe “in the end, there is one dance we can all do alone…together”.  How profoundly simple:

We are born alone, and we will die alone, and in the interim, we will have love, light, laughter, and pain.

And once more Jackson Browne, the ever-moderated teller of truths, holds us both hopeful and cautious again.

“Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down

Perhaps a better world is drawing near
Just as easily, it could all disappear
Along with whatever meaning you might have found”

Life is tenuous. Joys, and defeats, are temporary at best and fleeting in their tender mercies.  Feel them all, right then; don’t store them up for future use or recrimination, live in the fullness of each of their moments and then move through them to the future with your prayers drifting into space along with whatever meaning you may have found. Your prayers and their meaning are meant to be together in a place that only you can access and only you can derive the lessons they have to impart. Learn them and let them go.

And finally, the ultimate storyteller brings us back to ground; a fertile place to plant our markers and one that, in the end, can only give us pause.  The brilliance of this last verse is lost on the casual listener, trust me. I have heard it a thousand times and it wasn’t until just now, hearing this on the radio, turning up the volume and screaming at the sky, only then did I comprehend the meaning of the words I have sung for my entire life. The hopefulness of eternal things, “the world keeps turning around and around”, the joy we take in from this life, these turnings, and the time we have here on earth to sort through and encompass all of it; that is the gift Jackson Browne points out to us mere mortals.

“Don’t let the uncertainty turn you around (The world keeps turning around and around)
Go on and make a joyful sound

Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown”

And in the end, Jackson Browne drops us off a cliff as only he can do.  Joy and hopelessness wrapped into a package we burst forth from at birth and wither back into at death.  Will we ever find the reason we were alive?  He tends to think we never will, but I feel a more serene meaning in these seemingly doomsday-ish final words.  


“Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive, but you’ll never know”

I believe that we will find the reasons we were alive, in the end. We just may never get to express it in human form while our bodies are still corporeal. I believe that after each life we inhabit and complete, we absorb and “know” the reasons we were alive and that we save up those memories, those lessons, for the next time we appear and hopefully we can put them to better use.

I have worried for over a year that I would never cry again. I worried that once unleashed, the tsunami of salty tears would drown me.  I wondered if I ever would cry at all for all the losses or would this sadness, this shock, this devastation, simply become a rotting timber in the framework of my soul, bound to fail somewhere in the future and collapse the whole of me.

Today I cried for Nan and for Larry.  

They are a good place to start; worthy warriors whose lives I know and knew and whose souls I mourn for and rejoice in having had beside me.

The rest of the tears will follow in their own time but:

The Tears Came Today