In 2010, I was involved in a lengthy crisis where a massively difficult matter was the sort of road one should take in one’s behavior. One can do the right things for the wrong reasons, and one can be on the “right side” and go about one’s conduct in the wrong way. Having reflected long and hard about my own conduct, and the motivations for that conduct, in that particular time of crisis, I have pondered over the extent to which I took the high road in my own conversation and conduct. Certainly, I have found, to my own sorrow, that my conduct led me to be remembered by someone who had never known me at all in an unfriendly way. All too often, we may find to our sorrow that while our action may be about a matter in particular, our actions may have repercussions far beyond that narrow sphere.
As it happened, there was a song, my favorite song of the year 2010, that dealt with the same concerns that I was dealing with a bit unsuccessfully. That song happened to be called “The High Road,” and it was by a new band called Broken Bells, a partnership between two people involved in other projects. Although the lyrics of the song are rather obscure, they are very meaningful and worthy of reflection, especially as they dealt with that particular concern for the year. Any time a situation lasts for months and months on end, it will largely define the way one feels about the whole year, since it will have taken up so much time and effort to deal with. So it was in this particular case.
The first verse of “The High Road” reads as follows: “Go down to wait all night, / She’s bound to run amok, / Invested enough in it anyhow. / To each his own. / The garden needs sorting out, / She curls her lips on the bow. / And I don’t know if I’m dead or not / To anyone .” The opening lyrics of this song are rather ambiguous, but they suggest a few images. For one, we have the mood of anxious waiting, concern over chaos and trouble. The image of conflict and sorting out the garden was very reflective of what was going on in the year, the conflict between different people and different camps serving to sort out where people belonged. All too often, this process made some of us “dead” to others, as the conflicts became deeply personal with a lot of hard feelings. It took longer than all night to sort matters out, but eventually things got sorted out, even if it has taken far longer to repair the trust and relationships that were harmed when we all ran amok.
The prechorus to verse one reads as follows: “Come on and get the minimum / Before you open up your eyes. / This army has so many heads / To analyze… / Come on and get your overdose; / Collect it at the borderline. / And They want to get up in your head.” This prechorus to verse one adds more ominous layers of meaning to the song. It is unclear exactly what the minimum and overdose are talking about, whether they are talking about drugs (as is quite possible), or whether they are talking about other behaviors that tend to be addictive, whether it is mistrust and suspicion, anger or lust. In all of these cases, regardless of which option is true, the singers seem to ironically advocate that people get caught up in problems before their eyes are open, while others are wanting to get into their heads, and while they join what appears to be a singularly unhappy army of people.
The chorus for “The High Road” reads as follows: “Cause they know, and so do I / The high road is hard to find, / A detour in your new life / Tell all of your friends goodbye.” I found this chorus particularly haunting in 2010, and still today. The high road is very hard to find in one’s struggles and one’s problems, and though it is not an easy thing to find, it is worthwhile to find. Sometimes, though, trying to find the high road in one’s life requires some major detours that involve long goodbyes. Such was the case for me, as the struggles of 2010 led to a major detour to a foreign country in 2011, which has changed the course of my life quite dramatically in ways I still do not entirely understand.
The second verse goes as follows: “The dawn to end all nights, / That’s all we hoped it was, / A break from the warfare in your house, / To each his own. / A soldier is bailing out, / He curled his lips on the barrel, / And I don’t know if the dead can talk / To anyone.” Again, to my grief, even the successful resolution of the particular problems did not lead to a break in warfare, at least as far as my life was concerned. It simply changed the front to other matters that were difficult to resolve as well. We may all want peace, but to be a peacemaker, and to continue on even in the midst of continual difficulties in one area or another is a quiet aspect of bravery that may not often be recognized or appreciated. This song does not have in mind easy or quick success, but rather a difficult struggle not only against others, but against ourselves.
The prechorus of the second verse goes as follows: “Come on and get the minimum / Before you open up your eyes, / This army has so many hands. / Are you one of us? / Come on and get your overdose, / Collect it at the borderline, / And They want to get up in your head.” Like the first prechorus, this particular one involves minimums and overdoses, expressing the same kind of concerns about addictive behaviors. Likewise, it reflects the concern that every “side” has in a conflict: “are you one of us?” Anytime there is a conflict, the actions that we take determine our loyalty to various sides in a conflict, try as we might to stay neutral or avoid making a commitment. Sometimes picking sides cannot be helped.
The song ends rather poignantly, even tragically, as well, repeating over and over again, after the chorus: “It’s too late to change your mind, you let loss be your guide.” When we are guided by what we have lost and wish to regain, often we are led in a cycle of continuing loss, whether that is through promiscuity or conflict or addictive behaviors. Sometimes it can even feel as if it is too late to change our mind or change our ways, but so long as the desire exists to improve, we can always improve our conditions, even if we may not be able to avoid the repercussions of the experiences we have endured or the lives we have lived. Redemption does not mean freedom from consequences, after all.