I believe in uncorrelated hymns. This post is a personal reflection about one of my favorites.
February is the Year’s obituary in my life, which seems strange, given that my own birthday falls on the first of that month. Of course, I celebrate the death of the old year and birth of the new between December 31 and January 1 with the rest of the Gregorian collective. But every year it seems like I personally feel the real death in February.
I might partially attribute this feeling to geographical and meteorological considerations. By February the cold Utah winter has well worn out its welcome. I can’t seem to remember what it was like to step outside in the morning wearing short-sleeves, or to drive home from work with the window rolled down (or bus window open, depending). I can think of a few reasons why we don’t collectively celebrate the death of the year in February; for one thing, our calendar gods didn’t bother to ensure a constant transition between February and March. The rituals of Happy New Year can’t shake my inborn feeling that the year dies in February. The celebrations themselves don’t overcome the dark cold. We wait for Spring.
My favorite band has written a beautiful funeral dirge for my personal year-end mourning. I’ve unconsciously returned to it, along with the whole album which it concludes, every time my year dies. (Of course, now I’ve made my returning explicit.)
(Past Due) is the song, the third in a trio of Elizabethan-Sonnet-patterned songs written by John K. Samson of The Weakerthans. The three songs are placed at the beginning, middle, and conclusion of their album “Reconstruction Site.” They trace themes of language, grief, regret, loss, identity, prayer, and death. They are shot through with a strange melancholy/nostalgic sense of hope (melanstalgy?). For me, (Past Due) has become a weird conduit for the spirit of Elijah—the inevitability of death, responsibilities toward the deceased, missed opportunities, a lamentation over the entropic tyranny of memory.
The songs are most powerful when listened to in the context of the entire album, but you can here them separated here.
(Past Due) is one of my favorite uncorrelated hymns.
(This clip title and video above are fan-generated, not part of the band’s original album or conception. I recommend ignoring the video for your first listen. Maybe listen with your eyes closed.)
February always finds you folding
local papers open to the faces
“passed away,” to wonder what they’re holding
in those hands we’re never shown. The places
formal photographs refuse to mention.
His tiny feet, that birthmark on her knee.
The tyranny of framing our attention
with all the eyes their eyes no longer see.
And darkness comes too early, you won’t find
the many things you owe these latest dead:
a borrowed book, that cheque you didn’t sign.
The tools to be believed with, beloved.
Give what you can: to keep, to comfort this
plain fear you can’t extinguish or dismiss.