Radio 4 are trailing their Soul Music programme to be broadcast on Wednesday, the music is familiar, the Irish air The Parting Glass. It recalls Saint Patrick’s Day in 1999, a television programme recalling Paddy Clancy who died the previous winter. Musicians linking arms around the grave and joining in the words of the haunting ballad.
The song asks the most existential of questions. If one’s life ended in the next five minutes, what damage would have been left unrepaired? What memories would remain in people’s minds long after the grass had grown over the grave? What would one aspire to at the end?
Perhaps if one could sing with integrity the opening verse of the The Parting Glass:
Of all the money e’er I had, I spent it in good company;
And all the harm I’ve ever done, alas was done to none but me;
And all I’ve done for want of wit, to memory now I can’t recall,
So fill me to the parting glass, goodnight and joy be with you all.
Wouldn’t that be a grand “goodbye”? To be able say, with honesty, that one hadn’t done much harm in the world?
But what if one’s mood is less sanguine, what if even good company brings no joy?
Medication is a reasonable way forward, but it makes life uniformly grey. The deep troughs are eliminated along with the high peaks. Life becomes like one of those experiments with light waves, where a crest meets a trough and the result is a flat line. A flatline life is not attractive, the days of darkness might disappear, but along with them go the days of lightness when life seems good and the world a happy place.
Some days are days when the only option is to keep going. Sometimes there are days when you say, “Today is a bad day, but tomorrow will be better, and if tomorrow is no better, then, maybe the next day or the day after. If I keep going, I’ll reach a better day.”
Some days it is easier to disconnect, to switch off, to stop trying to run on empty. There are some days when the battle with the darkness seems not worth the energy and there is nothing to do other than to wait. Some days it is easier to think, “I can’t face people today, but I’ll see them soon.”
Bruce Springsteen’s “Further on up the road”, seems to express such a hope. Today is dark, but better times will come:
Now I been out in the desert, just doin’ my time
Searchin’ through the dust, lookin’ for a sign
If there’s a light up ahead well brother I don’t know
But I got this fever burnin’ in my soul
So let’s take the good times as they go
And I’ll meet you further on up the road
The “desert” times knock any certainty of there being light ahead, but there will be good times and we will be with our friends, further on up the road, and perhaps reach a point where a parting glass might be enjoyed.