What if it’s terribly awkward?
That was my first question when a filmmaker named The Arctic told me he wanted to conduct a video experiment with my song “To Cry for You.” His proposal was simple: “I’ll just ask people to let me film them while they listen to the song.”
I’m shy. I’m Canadian. I’m deeply uncomfortable with displays of intense feeling. So, you might ask yourself, why did I record a song about crying in the first place? It couldn’t be helped. In a season of deep loss, I wrote “To Cry for You” out of the discovery that constantly fighting my tears was beating up my soul. Though I’ve tended to view grief as something to be avoided at all costs, the song documents my journey towards understanding that grieving is a necessary and even beautiful form of loving.
So, I understood why The Arctic wanted to see how the song affected other people. But when he pitched his idea, my shy Canadian-ness kicked in, and I felt apprehensive about the possibility of two opposite but equally horrifying outcomes: What if the participants don’t have an emotional reaction to the song? What if they do?
Still, The Arctic convinced me to let him try his experiment. Now, looking at the footage of the brave, beautiful souls who came into his studio and allowed themselves to be vulnerable, I’m so glad. Some participants are visibly moved. Others just listen intently, offering the holy gifts of their presence and focus. Together they teach me that there is no right or wrong way to process loss or emotion, and that Simone Weil is right: Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.
There will always be a level of risk and embarrassment inherent in the courageous choice to be fully present to sorrow within ourselves and each other. Carolyn Arends
Watching the video, I realize that my impulse to avoid anything too awkward is connected to my delayed capacity to grieve. There will always be a level of risk and embarrassment inherent in the courageous choice to be fully present to sorrow within ourselves and each other. We’ll stammer. We’ll blunder. Tears will evade us when we need them, only to suddenly arrive at the most inopportune times.
But here’s what I’m learning. If we refuse to bail—if we just show up and hang in there with each other and with our lives—there is a level of connection on the far side of awkwardness that is rare and holy.
What if it’s terribly awkward? Well, then, it’s human, and real. On my best and bravest days, I’m in.
Click here to read our in-depth interview with Carolyn about her new album, Recognition. And click here to visit her website.