Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bittersweet Symphony

I've never been good at song lyrics. I make them up as I see fit even if they make no sense. As long as they sorta make sense to me. My cousin has always been better at this. She knew every commercial jingle when we were tweens, back when that word didn't exist.

Anyway, all day the only song that comes to mind is Bittersweet Symphony, by the Verve. Today we said goodbye to our German exchange student. Paul was here for two weeks and was with us 24/7. Two Saturdays ago, it was like bringing a new baby home from the hospital. Will he like us? Will we like him? Will he eat? Will he sleep? Will he get sick? What will we do if anything happens? What if he wants to leave? Yet today, after he left, our daughter said, "It's so sad. We'll never see him again." Although we assured her we would, or at least that she would and her brothers would, it is so bitter to say good bye. There is an uncertainty, a longing to have what you had. We will really miss this wonderful person who came into our lives full force, who melded into our family seemlessly, and played with the boys like they were his brothers. Brothers - the tussles and the hugs.

I have tasted plenty of bitter foods in life, the ones that leave you despairing and sad. And I have tasted deliciously sweets fruits too, the times that happiness kisses you. So today is bittersweet. I am so sad to see Paul go. It should be longer, I keep thinking. But I am so. so. so. so. tired. It was exhausting hosting and entertaining and keeping on keeping on. The house is a wreck. The fridge is full of god-knows-what. I don't remember my children's teachers names, or any of the paper work I am supposed to fill out by Monday. So there is a sweetness in knowing I will eventually get my life back. And back in order. I ran today for the first time in three weeks. For all the sweetness in having him here, there is a sweetness in returning to the normalcy of life.

But back to Paul and the Symphony of life. The song lyrics are this:

'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life
Try to make ends meet
You're a slave to money then you die
I'll take you down the only road I've ever been down
You know the one that takes you to the places
where all the veins meet yeah,

So we were trying to mix it up, you know. Trying to make it not be about "slave to money then you die". This was our thing. Something out of the norm. Giving our children a gift of an exchange student with whom they will hopefully remain in touch. But what did he see? Just the only road I've ever been down. The same thing I've done every day. But there is a real beauty in that and that is the symphony. I thought the lyrics were "where all ways meet", which could mean that we all intersect at some point, but the veins? They only intersect in your heart, right? Did we show him our heart?

The thing about a symphony is that it is LOUD. It's not a quartet, or a chamber group, or an orchestra, it's a SYMPHONY. To show someone your life, someone who is a complete stranger, a complete outsider, and say, This is what we do. This is our life. really risks them saying WHAT? are you kidding me? It's someone shouting at you "THIS IS WHAT YOU DO? THIS IS YOUR LIFE?" But you know, it was awesome. It was someone asking and answering questions, someone pointing out to you, WHAT IS THAT? WHY DO YOU DO THAT? It was someone giving me perspective. Completely innocent, impartial, non-judgemental perspective. Don't we all want a little SYMPHONY in our lives? Someone who says, "REALLY? INTERESTING!" Someone who shouts at us a little. "REALLY? YOU KNOW ALL THIS? WELL YOU DON'T KNOW ME YET!" He did not say that. He was super-polite, saying things like, "I am fine. Really." or "I do not know how to say..." and "It is not necessary". Um, yes, it is necessary for me to do your laundry once in two weeks. "I do not think so." It was a casual conversation with ultra-correct English being spoken. "It is not a problem." Someone who wakes us up to what we do and why we do it. It's refreshing. It's inspiring. I love the people I meet who teach me something new - about myself, about my life, about how I do things.

My first graders do the same. This year I feel like they are saying, "REALLY? YOU THINK YOU KNOW HOW TO TEACH? WELL YOU DON'T KNOW ME YET!" It's awesome. It's a new perspective. It's inspiring.

No change, I can change
I can change, I can change
But I'm here in my mold
I am here in my mold
But I'm a million different people
from one day to the next
I can't change my mold
No, no, no, no, no

So I always thought the lyrics were "I'm here in my mind", not "here in my mold". Now I see how different the meaning is. "Here in my mind" is a good thing. You're settled. You're secure. You're you. "Here in my mold" - not so much. You're trapped. You're conformed. You're like everyone else. So I don't know. Am I like everyone else? Every other American Paul met? Does he see any distinction? Do I?

The other funny thing is that of all the billions of people, how did this one single person, male, German, age 15, come into our lives? He was funny, smart, kind, cute. He was so much like us. So much of the million different people we are were in him. It was a wonderful bittersweet symphony. We will miss him. We will miss our time together. He spent a good 40 minutes swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in October last weekend. He was so happy. How do you recapture that? How do you find words to explain that symphony of life? But we said goodbye to the ocean, and we said goodbye to Paul.

Well I never pray
But tonight I'm on my knees yeah
I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me, yeah

I do pray. But tonight I'll pray for one more person in the world. One more family that is so like my own. One more family that knows the lyrics to the Bittersweet Symphony, because, don't we all? Tomorrow they will wake to meet their son at the train station in Frankfurt. Their son who they haven't seen in two weeks. What a symphony it will be.

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