On Saturday, in the midst of my struggle, I closed my eyes and listened to the lyrics of the song that played in the background, Lightness by Death Cab for Cutie. The song barely has any lyrics. They incredibly simple, yet so incredibly moving.
Your heart is a river that flows from your chest
Through every organ
Your brain is the dam
And i am the fish who can't reach the cord.
On paper, they look like nothing but put together with the music they are magic. Then a cosmic hammer hit me on the head and I realized: Lyricists face the same situation writers do, they must write a message in as few words as possible and still make a powerful statement.
I began to listen to more Death Cab for Cutie lyrics over the weekend and I was inspired by how a simple statement could move me so much. Take the opening for Tiny Vessels:
This is the moment that you know
That you told her that you loved her but you don't.
You touch her skin and then you think
That she is beautiful but she don't mean a thing to me.
The message could easily have been written in 500 words or more, explaining why and how he knew he didn't love her, but in 38 words Ben Gibbard conveys the feelings of sadness and regret without coming out and saying: I feel really bad that I don't love her. A perfect show not tell.
I also listened to the words of another Death Cab for Cutie song, What Sarah Said. I have written a post about it on my Life After Death blog. The song is about someone you love dieing and it struck too close to home. Four years ago my husband was in a single engine plane crash. He suffered 3rd degree burns over 60% of his body and spent 5 weeks in Vanderbilt University Hospital's Burn Unit ICU. In the end, he became too tired to fight. I held his hand and watched him die. I remember thinking "I can't believe this is happening. This isn't real." And yet it was. As the heart monitor decreased, from 80 beats per minute, to 30, to five and finally to zero, I watched in disbelief. This wasn't supposed to happen.
The moment he died, I stood on a threshold between my life as I knew it and the life I was about to face, alone. My best friend, the one person in the world who could help me through my pain, just left me. People went on with their lives and I watched in wonder. How could they not know the world had just ended? Time slows, stops in the moment. I was aware of everything and nothing.
As I wrote the catastrophic incident in my book, I wanted to capture the threshold, the moment the characters lives are irrevocably changed. The moment time stands still and the realization hits them: their world has just ended. I'm still working on it. It's only halfway there. But this is the tiny snippet I have:
Flaming embers rained down the hill, minute pieces falling through the tree canopy like floating fireflies. In the dusk of the storm they glowed in golden splendor, dreams captured and blown away by the wind. Lost forever.
** On my blog Life After Death, For Those Left Behind I am doing a four part series on What Sarah Said and relating it to my experience.