Feeling a bit better about simply being human


MIND MOVES:We trust Leonard Cohen to be our guide. He is our man

If it be your will

That I speak no more

And my voice be still

As it was before

I will speak no more

I shall abide until

I am spoken for

If it be your will

THE MOMENT that will stay with me from the recent performance in Kilmainham by Leonard Cohen was the gearshift in the atmosphere when he sang these lines.

They arrived in the final stage of a generous series of encores. We had taken Manhattan and Berlin, and the audience had jumped to the aisles to dance to his Waltz. People were on their feet and swept up in a collective celebration of this man and his music.

We knew the end of this rapturous evening was near and perhaps we sensed this would be the last time we would have the chance to hear him live in Dublin. Mind you, as Leonard said himself, he had made that same prediction himself on his last visit and “look what happened”.

I had looked forward all evening to hearing If it be your will. But when he upped the tempo in these closing minutes and swept the audience into a frenzy, I figured he had left it too late to perform such a quiet meditative number.

I was wrong. He segued into it through the loud applause and immediately there was silence.

Eight thousand people stood still in that field as darkness fell and the night air grew colder. No one cheered or danced or moved as the Webb sisters took up this song and carried it beautifully with just a harp and acoustic guitar.

If it be your will

That a voice be true

From this broken hill

I will sing to you

This song is a prayer that could take its place among the Psalms as naturally as in any folk rock canon. We listened with reverence. I wondered what he was touching in all of us that captivated our attention so completely.

We are generally weary and wary of anything that smacks of religion. Our hearts have been calcified by one too many betrayals and by our collective drift towards a more secular philosophy. But here we were with our hearts blown open, drinking in every note, joined together by a prayer that seemed to speak both to us and for us.

Leonard may be associated with sombre dirges, but in fact he is a lot of fun and never takes himself too seriously: “I said to Hank Williams: How lonely does it get? Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet.” He can touch our deepest sorrows and our deepest joys.

Worn out LPs of his music have no doubt calmed and soothed many a lonely heart in flats and bedsits. But with rhythm and poetry and passion, his music can also surprise, upend and lift us.

There is no place that he won’t go. He’s not afraid of what lies beneath. He is sassy and sexy and fearless. And because we trust him to be our guide, we follow him. This is why he is our man.

And in the closing moments of this musical feast, he reminded us to make space for the sacred in ourselves. Not to be afraid to open ourselves to places that scare us, because it is only when we touch these places that the “light gets in”.

If it be your will spoke to us about navigating our way through a world that is fraught with uncertainty and suffering. The mystery we are living will always be more than our minds can grasp. We all need to connect with something greater than ourselves. Trying to figure things all out alone inside our heads is more than we can bear.

Maybe it was just me, but I had the feeling listening to this song that we were more united as an audience than we had been all night.

After a rousing finale, we said our goodbyes and walked away. I had been gifted with a ticket and felt privileged to be there.

It made me feel that I could stand more easily on the broken hill that is life. I suspect this celebration left us all feeling a bit better about simply being human.

Tony Bates is founding director of Headstrong – the National Centre for Youth Mental Health ( headstrong.ie)

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