jesse shadows

This post is the first of a new series the NFfCR is beginning which couples a song with its story, as told by the songwriter. Today’s post is from the record The Great Commoner by Brock’s Folly. (You can buy it right here.)  It is the song Lesson in Dying from Heather written by Jesse Murray, and the following text is his explanation of the song. But first, you should listen to the song and read the lyrics.

The Song: Lesson in Dying from Heather

The Lyrics

And I’m really not afraid of dying. I’m not ready

to die because I have so much more that I want

to do in life. But I’m prepared. And I’m ready to

meet Jesus. And I’m going to marry him …

She wants to marry before she dies

some time early next July.

My mother cries for her life

at Christmas time.

And I’m not scared of dying;

I just don’t want to suffer.

That’s my whole thing.

I just want God to take me …

Tell my sister she has none to fear.

Come this time next year,

she will still be here

or she will be there,

but He will be near her.

On the Lexington Green,

she makes her final stand.

Scarf on her bare head,

suitcase and her plans,

but a bed rail in her hands.

Oh, my dear sister!

You will tell my sister

she will have her wedding bells.

Christ Himself will lift her veil.

She’s married into something …

Oh, it’s bigger than she knows.

Tell my sister she has none to fear.

Come this time next year,

she will still be here

or she will be there,

but He will be near her.

The Story

It was October, several years ago now. I was in Cincinatti. It feels like it’s been much longer than that. I think that’s just how death clears a path in this world, by swinging wide and mixing it up.

Death says, “Life is short.”

“Life is very long,” said Eliot.

“I took death to dinner

And put a bullet in his head,” concluded Jesus.

The conversation was over. Life is hard, but death is dead.

But I digress. It was October, several years ago now … when Heather died of cancer. I didn’t know Heather all that well, but she was a student at a boarding school in the Kentuckies where my parents’ lines happened to fall for a rough five years. They knew her in life, and they can tell you a better story about that. I knew of her in death, in those months when her body was being scraped across the washboard of life.

Rough.

Pain.

Tears.

Hard to breathe.

Scrubbing.

Like walking another mile, legs having already fallen off.

I think that’s what her death was like.

That’s what mom tells me.

I wrote a song about her before she died. She got to hear it. I wrote it around Christmas time when mom called me crying and said, “The doctors are giving her ’til next July. She always wanted to get married.” In sadness I sat down in Brevard, North Carolina and started playing a guitar. I added words:

She wants to marry before she dies sometime early next July.

My mother cries for her life at Christmas time.

The rest of the song was a youthful response, as hopeful as I could be concerning the death of a child. I was a child. That’s what separates most children from adults:

Hope.

She will always be a child.

I will always be a child.

It’s our calling.

The Lexington Green is a marketplace where there is a Whole Foods. It is the location of my fondest memories of that city. We would go there to buy Virgil’s root beer. “On the Lexington Green” is my way of owning what I could of that place. It was what I knew of Lexington. The hospital was not too far away. I went there too once to see her. She was on chemo, not yet doomed, but sick and in a bed. She had her plans, and we didn’t know for certain then that she wouldn’t be able to travel and marry and the rest. A strong young woman brought to this—what else can you do but call out to her. Oh, my dear sister.

You will tell my sister

She will have her wedding bells.

Christ himself will lift her veil.

She’s married into something, and it’s bigger than she knows.

It’s the story-end of the gospel. When I wrote it, I was still trying to convince myself that it was true. I’ve been reassuring myself of it since Heather died, almost daily. I believe it. Heather believed it. She spoke about it. So, this song didn’t tell her anything she didn’t already know, but it helped me to document the death of a Saint, so that when I came to die, I might remember the lesson of it. She died so well. She found the bridegroom, that good husband we will all share.

A paraphrase:

I’m not afraid of dying.

I’m ready to meet Jesus.

I’m going to marry him.

“Death is a threshold,” said Don Everts. He was paraphrasing Jesus.