Sometimes there is a song that speaks to you. It comes into your life just when you need it and for some reason it stays with you. Some might argue that a great song is a great song and that there is nothing more to it. However, I submit that it takes far more than a coalescence of sounds to create the kind of music that strikes and inhabits the soul. For me, the ‘great song’ has to do something beyond the initial instance of auditory recognition. In my life, the truly meaningful songs have found a way to help me recognize an absence of meaning, or more plainly, an emptiness. I say this with some trepidation because the concept of absence or emptiness probably makes me sound somewhat melodramatic. Okay fine, I know it does, you were all thinking it. But, allow me to continue with what I’m trying to get at and give me a chance to explain.
The recognition of absence or emptiness, in my mind, is actually a good thing. As a society we are genuinely afraid of absence. The absence of meaning leads us to develop theories to explain the unknown and the absence of love leads us to search for our fairytale. The pursuit of meaning has the ability to lead to some pretty great things. As mentioned above, it seems pretty likely that all of us have a certain desire, and need, to find meaning in things like love, pain and the human condition. Think about it, how would we find truth if we didn’t appreciate the complete and utter absence of it on occasion? What I mean, is that the recognition of absence has the ability to necessarily lead to the rewarding pursuit of meaning.
We live in a world that places a premium on ‘knowing’. We are told from a young age that we must know our past, our present and our future to be considered stable and progressive individuals. As a result we spend a lot of time questioning what it means to truly know ourselves and the world around us. It’s as if we somehow fail the test if we don’t establish a grounded and definitive meaning to who we are and what we are meant to do.
Like many things in life, the pursuit of meaning and knowledge can be a double edged sword. What if we don’t find it? What if we can’t define who we are? What if? What if? What if? We’ve all been there and we’ve all struggled to find something to fill an absence that we don’t quite understand. We all have our own ways of coping and filling this absence, but my question to you is whether or not we should worry about filling it at all. For example, without the absence of love, could we ever experience the joy of being swept off our feet and without the absence of happiness could we ever understand the feeling of recovery and rejuvenation? Maybe the recognition of absence is what prepares us to experience something incredible.
What I’m trying to get at is the meaning that we ascribe to absence itself. For example, when we feel the absence of love, the natural instinct is often to ask, “what is wrong with me, why can’t I find love?” By reacting in this way we impress a negative conation on the concept of absence and immediately privilege those who have filled the void. Instead of doing this it is possible to take absence and accept it as a presence that is part of who we are. The mere recognition of absence means that you have prepared a meaningful space for something new to occur. We don’t always know what that ‘something’ is, but we sure as hell know that we need it. Think about it, how could you fill an emptiness if you didn’t first recognize and accept its existence?
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with all of this and I guess I don’t really blame you. For some, this entire article is probably your definition of ‘absence of meaning’.
I want to take you back to the purpose of this article. I want to tell you about an incredible song, one that awoke me to an absence that I didn’t even know I had. The song is called Try and it’s by an artist named Zach Berkman. I heard the song for the first time about four months ago and remember enjoying it but not really thinking anything of it. Then, about two weeks ago I looked it up again and gave it another listen. This time, the song grabbed me and captivated my attention. I started to wonder what it was about this particular song that provided me such clarity to consider my thoughts. After a while I realized what the song was doing. It was forcing me to ‘try’ to figure out what I was missing. Why did I feel complete and whole while listening to the song? What was it that the song gave me that I wasn’t getting otherwise? I kept listening to the song and asked myself these questions until I suddenly came to the realization that I was tricking myself. The song wasn’t encouraging me to answer any of these questions. It was merely telling me to ask them. It was telling me to appreciate the brilliance of a life of uncertainty and a life of questions. What do we have left if there is nothing more to discover? It was telling me that no matter how confusing the world got, the point was to keep trying to figure it out. It was telling me to wake up to the commonplace, to the things that I take for granted, and to recognize the excitement in those people, places and things. The song was reminding me to recognize just how much joy there was in questions and a life without ultimate answers. When Berkman says “oh look how you shine, I know I could love you if we tried, so try, try, try, try” I think that he wants us to realize that we need to ‘try’ life to realize just how much it can ‘shine’. It’s not important for life to always ‘work’ it just has to ‘be’ in order for it to mean something and to be special.
So, without further ado, I hope that you will listen to the song and take something from it. Don’t take what I took, take something else and let it make you think.