I recently became a car commuter, merging with so many others on the asphalt express to find a purpose that sits independently outside of mothering & wife-ing. As is the case for many who opt to get there by car, it is convenient and efficient. But when I drive alone to do something necessary, something exciting, something daunting, something adventurous, it has also become a mobile refuge from all the craziness on the way there.
I tell myself I should be more environmentally conscientious and travel on public transport, I should be biking it, I should car pool. But I don’t because my car has become a therapeutic, healing space — sacred time to be alone with my thoughts and my music as I carefully accelerate to achieve something, or slow down because I am not quite in the right headspace yet. I have become one of millions of commuters who may be finding, like me, that their car provides precious down-time to contemplate, meditate, process, or opportunistically tune out the world — or maybe even just to mindfully feel the power of operating the mechanics of turning, slowing, indicating, stopping and arriving at a destination.
Cars are where babies are conceived and relationships end. A slam of the door can be a very clear sign that one needs to be outside of the problem while the other remains inside, relieved to have the bubble back to themselves or ready to abandon it hurriedly in need of union once again. For some, the car is just for getting from here to there. But I wonder, as the world seems to become more about ‘think locally, act globally’, is it also for seclusion? As I stick to my personal car space along a motorway, reassured by the decency and co-operation of other drivers, I appreciate them as they keep to their personal space. Could road rage be about having one’s personal space invaded as much as being offended by another seemingly not bothering to follow the rules?
Whilst rolling along in my mobile refuge, music has become a method of figuring out the mystery of my feelings, my relationships, my wonderings. The right song in my ‘pseudo studio’ can answer questions in a rhythmic, lyrical, melodic and succinct way. Some songs are my secular prayers. The right song can inspire faith, hope and love.
On a road trip one frivolous day out, I was told by my self-declared, depression-free passenger that some of my beloved songs were too sad to listen to after I identified a random song as having poignancy for me regarding my experience of depression. My response was to explain that such songs say what I haven’t been able to for myself, or to others, so exquisitely. They help move the sadness through me and out into the universe with care and company.
I questioned myself long after this conversation had passed, knowing there was something else about the experience of opting to listen to a sad song that I could not name for some time. And it took another drive to realise what it was……I am okay listening to my favourite list of sad songs because I can control how long I am willing to feel the sadness – will it be for one song, one song repeated many times, or shuffle them and be willing to go with the selection my smartphone makes for me? The choice to listen to a sad song happens whilst alone but always in the band’s virtual company. In any others’ company, if I am feeling resentfully distracted by melancholy, I’ll try instead to chat, discuss, sit comfortably in silence, or play an upbeat song to be one of a car choir.
But the power of listening to a song that evokes my sadness is the control of when I put the song on and when I decide…..that’s enough…time for something cheerful – “mahnah mahnah, doo doo do-do-do”.
The power is in the control of knowing when I have to feel the words and music course through me and I determine how long I will feel it. It has become a way of trying to take control of the mood that threatens me, to acknowledge it and allow it to pass through me in a way that is more acceptable to me. The right song commiserates, soothes, reassures, joins with me and heals. When the song ends, the doubt-inducing sadness has passed for the time being, been put to one side because I have acknowledged it with self-care and virtual company. How powerful to have others so talentedly put what I feel into poetic words and music, then share that with me and a mysterious multitude of others. Do those other fans do the same? What is their experience of the song? Does that matter? We each listen to it to feel what we need to feel.
There are a handful of tried and trusted, sombre songs that are jewels to me — precious songs that seem to sound and feel like depression so I feel less isolated in my experience. Those songs are often played in my car on a lone trip, going somewhere necessary. When I feel the haunting company of my sadness, the car trip is an opportunity to listen to those songs privately. The car takes me somewhere to achieve something purposeful, but a song will often remind me of why that outing is so important to me.
Sharing a song with another to ‘say it all’ on my behalf is not an easy option. To attempt to express my sadness to another, via a song, can get lost in the translation of another. It just won’t do. The personal is always personal and no matter how we might assume the same interpretations are experienced by another, it has been through my observations that this is not reliably the case. So my self-help songs help only me in the way I need them to. Sacredly.
There is a song I often play when I return home from a difficult day or from a road trip far away. It sings of me “heading westwards towards the sun”. It is an uplifting song but the chorus is “I’m sorry” repeated many times. The chorus had bothered me because I wasn’t sorry to be heading home. This song does not evoke sadness but elation. It jarred with me. I had no-one to apologise to whilst feeling so comforted as I headed toward my family home and my tribe. This song celebrates my return, like a well-chosen song that plays as the credits roll when the film has ended on a dream come true. But the apology became a discreet point of conflict between me and this beloved song. So I challenged myself to think more about what the song could mean for me in its entirety. I did not want to deny parts of it when it was my theme song whenever I return home, towards the sunset, after the open road has beckoned me – “the open road is infinitely hopeful” (another line from another song). So I pondered the apology……what could it mean? It is also a love song. It always connects me with whom I love……..and loving another is about the willingness to say sorry…….
Sorry I am late……Sorry we can’t agree……Sorry I wasn’t with you when you needed me……Sorry I can’t give you what you want……Sorry I hurt you.
But I am here and you are in my song. You always will be. The song tells of a chapter in my story and you are one of the supporting roles.