Friday, January 7, 2011

Old Man River

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Yesterday I attended a funeral. I found the service precious and surprisingly thought provoking. He was old farmer, a market gardener. He'd requested -- and it was granted -- that he be buried with his John Deere hat, having once declared that "if it's not a John Deere, it's not a tractor."

It didn't surprise me that the first song sung by the soloist was Rock of Ages. Many funerals no doubt include this hymn about taking refuge in "the rock" as we prepare to see meet our Maker and see His glory. It was sung with a deep, resonant operatic baritone by someone who could really belt it out.

At the close of the service, the second song served as a form of summing up.... Old Man River.

To be honest, I can't recall ever really listening to the words before. The tune is a familiar one, a Negro spiritual with that folk wisdom that speaks of much, comforting us during our earthly sojourn. I thought of the river in Hesse's Siddhartha. I reflected on Dylan's references to the river and the haunted quality in so many of his songs. And of the passage above from the book of Ecclesiastes, which is itself a mystery, like the river.

It turns out that the soloist, big guy with white hair and beard, is a professional blues musician. The words came from a deep place and spoke to deep places inna my heart.

Old Man River

Ol' man river,
Dat ol' man river
He mus' know sumpin'
But don't say nuthin',
He jes' keeps rollin'
He keeps on rollin' along.

He don' plant taters,
He don't plant cotton,
An' dem dat plants'em
is soon forgotten,
But ol'man river,
He jes keeps rollin'along.

You an'me, we sweat an' strain,
Body all achin' an' racket wid pain,
Tote dat barge!
Lif' dat bale!
Git a little drunk
An' you land in jail.

Ah gits weary
An' sick of tryin'
Ah'm tired of livin'
An' skeered of dyin',
But ol' man river,
He jes'keeps rolling' along.

Have a very special day. Make it count.

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