Siren’s Song

According to various Greek myths, the Sirens were chimerical sort of women who lured mariners to their death with the promises of being able to see both the past and the future. Odysseus, for example, upon the advice of one Circe (who gave him advice about the Scylla and Charybdis, it should be noted [1]), had himself tied to the mast of his ship and had his sailors’ ears closed with beeswax with commands not to untie him by any means, and heard the false promises of the sirens and was able to pass along unharmed because he had restrained himself from listening to them. The sirens, once someone had been able to pass by them and resist their call, then fell to their deaths in the sea besides their home meadows. Although sirens have typically been viewed in recent centuries as being merely symbolic of temptation, whether the temptation to overlook the importance of human rights in order to gain a share of China’s large domestic market, or more mundane sort of temptations, the general sense of doom and judgment that come along with sirens has remained even if they are viewed in a metaphorical and not a literal sense these days.

Recently I had the chance to read a novel with the slightly changed name of Syren’s Song [2], and it too was a tale that involved the sea. In this case, the Syren was a ship that was a part of the private military force of a fictional contemporary military contractor involved in dangerous intrigue with Sri Lankan rebels and a murderous Chinese corporation. It is telling that the siren lures people to doom in the sea, for though there are plenty of ways in which people can be lured to their destruction, the deeps are a particularly notable and consistent element in torment and destruction. One need only remember those notable and painful words of Heman the Ezrahite in reflecting on his own dark night of the soul in Psalm 88:15-17 [3]: “I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth; I suffer Your terrors; I am distraught. Your fierce wrath has gone over me; Your terrors have cut me off. They came around me all day long like water; they engulfed me altogether.” Even for godly people, the difficulties of life are like water, like floods, like crashing waves. This is important and significant to remember.

In looking at the aftermath of abuse, as I have been writing about in this memoir [4], there are several ways in which water and the deep have played a serious role in shaping the deepest aspects of my life and mood, in some ways for the better, and in some ways for the worse. Perhaps the most obvious way my life experience have shaped who I am is the way that so much of the way I deal with others is deeply layered [5]. There are some people whose responses to life are unambiguous, are straightforward and direct, and there is nothing complicated about them. Many people find comfort in knowing that someone else is straightforward even where they are not, and it is commonly and mistakenly thought that men are simple beings and women are full of layers and complexity. To be sure, women are full of layers and complexity—that part, at least, seems obvious—yet at least some men, like myself, are far deeper than meets the eye. At times this is a great advantage, in that it allows for respect for those who communicate indirectly and it also involves patience in communicating what is under layers of irony and misdirection, a task which is time consuming and sometimes very tedious. Yet at times it can be a great disadvantage as well, in that it makes communication difficult on both sides whereas before it might have been difficult only on one side. Communication is a difficult enough matter that making it harder than it would be otherwise seems deeply unwise and troublesome.

Yet, if we are dealing with people of understanding, our own complexity and depth can be a great strength. For one, the fact that we are full of deep layers, some of them invisible from the surface, means that there will be occasions for surprise indefinitely in continuing to know others. For those who dislike boredom, the fact that there is always something underneath the surface that can be visible from time to time can help increase interest, for those who happen to think that way. Likewise, people of complexity are likely to be just the sort of people who will not oversimplify others, which is likely to help ensure that they try to see others as they are rather than collapse perspective into a small and easy to misunderstand reduction of that reality. It is tempting to simplify so that we may better understand the larger currents of our lives and our world and those around us, and this is permissible, so long as we never let ourselves forget that these are simplifications and not the whole picture. Once we forget that other people are more complicated than we see them, we have the tendency to believe our own press as to our own immense wisdom and understanding, and we view others unjustly as a result, which is a far more serious problem than merely to lack understanding because someone or something seems too complicated to be able to successfully grasp. The illusion of knowledge is far more dangerous than the frank admission of our absence of knowledge.

It is not only our desire to see ourselves as people of understanding, or to understand what we see as most important about others or our world, that serves as a siren’s song, though. Sometimes siren’s songs can be distressingly literal, as they were for Heman in Psalm 88. For a couple of years while I lived in Town & Country, a friend of mine who was a violinist at Saint Pete College, the junior college in the neighboring county across Tampa Bay, convinced me to play viola in their chamber orchestra, as a viola was lacking, and I agreed, which meant driving half an hour from work across a long bridge, the Howard Franklin Bridge, to spend four hours playing on Monday nights with about half a dozen to a dozen other musicians of different parts. In a chamber orchestra, there are few enough musicians that everyone has their own part, with no doubling and no backup, and the result is a very intimate sort of performance. I was happy to help out the chamber music ambitions of my friend, who happened to be the concertmaster of the orchestra, and the director was a friendly fellow himself, but there was one great problem that all of this playing for four hours every Monday night during both the Spring and Fall terms had for me. It brought on literal struggles against suicidal impulses.

Unfortunately, this is not a joke. While I was generally in a hurry driving from work to practice, hoping not to be late, and to be able to find a parking space close to the band room where we practiced, this was a small problem compared to the difficulties of the drive home. Picture yourself as I was. You have spent four hours playing music in an intimate environment with half a dozen other people, most of whom are in their late teens and early twenties as junior college students, some male, some female, and it is not time to go home. You have not had dinner, and it is now ten o’clock PM. You are driving from this atmosphere of friendliness and intimate creation of beautiful music by Mozart and Haydn alone, in the dark, on roads that are nearly empty, with an empty stomach, in the grips of major depression that has lasted for years, to find a hurried and tardy meal before doing one’s homework and sleeping alone before getting up all too early the next morning to begin the grind all over again. In such a state, it took conscious restraint to drive home week after week, far away from everyone else in the orchestra, without consenting to my self-destruction. The temporary joy of spending a few hours with fellow musical people in the creation of beautiful music made the crush of the oppressive darkness and loneliness of my life all that more difficult to be face. To be sure, I did fight against the suicidal impulse, but I was aware every week at every point along the way that it was a fight.

Nor has this been an isolated experience, although the pull of the dark and murky waters of Tampa Bay was perhaps a more terrifying manifestation of this siren’s song than has often been the case. Even as a college student in Los Angeles before my five year long struggle with a bout of major depression the same general feeling was something I wrestled with, and for the same reasons. After services I would go out to eat with friends, most of whom had attended the same religious college in Pasadena, California, and after being dropped off at home, I would feel the same sort of oppressive sadness at having moved from the enjoyment of hours of lively, friendly, intellectual conversation to the oppressive loneliness of my usual life, loneliness that it is easier to endure on a regular basis than it is to endure when one has seen how life could be, and perhaps how it should be, far more often than it is. The siren’s call is a call of despair, that one will never have one’s longings fulfilled, that one is to live essentially alone for the most part, whether alone as a person with a head in his book, or on the computer, or alone in the crowd of uncomprehending strangers. What makes the loneliness all too unbearable is the knowledge that there are times and situations where the loneliness is temporarily banished, where one can find pleasant and understanding company, albeit only for a while. It is the sort of way that many children feel when they face the return to school after having enjoyed a glorious but all too brief break, the knowledge that life is a prison, and that liberty is only to be found on occasion, and not as the general rule.

I hope my own writing of my emotional state when it comes to such matters is not taken as being overly melodramatic. One of my general concerns when speaking about my emotional state or a great many of my personal memories, is that given the seeming still waters of my life, the recognition that the still waters run deep, and that there are powerful currents underneath the sedate surface, may make people more alarmed rather than less alarmed at what I have to say. Rather than convince people that I was not a robot or someone lacking in emotion, and that I was a human, if a somewhat unusual one, what I have to say may not end up being a reassuring reminder at all. Such is the risk that is taken when one seeks to tell the truth as one understands it, but it is a risk that is worth taking, for if others are to walk along with us, they must understand us and see us for who we really are. And sometimes that truth is a terrifying thing when we pull it up out of the water and examine it closely in the light of day. At least let us hope that we may be able to overcome the threat of the siren’s calls in our lives, the oversimplifications of what is around us, the lack of concern for the people who we interact with, and the sheer lack of understanding of the people who we cross paths with, and who fight against far more darkness than we might ever be able to imagine if we did not have our own similar battles.


[2] See, for example:

BOOK REVIEW – Syren’s Song: A Connor Stark Novel

[3] See, for example:


[5] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Siren’s Song

  1. Pingback: Semper Vigilante | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Naming Our Abuse: Driving Again | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: A Family Reunion | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Elephant Complex | Edge Induced Cohesion

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