The Songs That Undo Me

Music is my heart language.  I think in song lyrics (and can always provide a good song lyric for any situation I find myself in), and music is always running through my head.  I’ve had the unfortunate experience, on several occasions, to have a boss stop me in the middle of what they were saying and ask, “Julie, are you really humming (or singing) while I’m talking to you?!”  To my horror, I would realize that I was, in fact, humming or singing without realizing it, all the while completely listening to what they were saying.  I just can’t help it.

I’m one of those people who can get physical chest pain from an emotional experience elicited by a song or good lyrics.  I also think there is really nothing better in the entire world than speeding down a two-lane country road with the windows down while belting out a really good song at the top of your lungs.

I had a couple of conversations this last month with friends about songs that I feel define my life….the ones that undo me every time I hear them. There are five songs in particular that I call my “life songs”…the ones that resonate with me on a heart level. These are the songs I tell my best friends they should make sure and play at my funeral. Not because I’m morbid or anything, but because they speak to who I am and what got my attention in life; they speak to the human experience.  And also because I want it to be clear that I don’t want any “I’ll Fly Away” rapture style hymns sung when I kick the bucket.

So, listed in order of my favorites with a little commentary included for each, here are my life songs:

  1. Falling Slowly from the Once movie soundtrack

This song….OMG.  Gets me every. single. time.  My friend Jemima first introduced it to me about five years ago. The movie was wonderful and sweet, but the song lyrics are just amazing.  To me, it’s all about hope, making choices to change direction in life, to stop doing the same things that have always and only resulted in suffering. It’s about being seen and understood by someone who really knows and accepts you, and both of you offering hope to each other.  It’s a song about redemption, of having space and time to truly find ourselves and start anew.  This will forever be my heart song.

2. Holy Now by Peter Mayer

I still remember where I was the first time I heard this song.  My theological scaffolding was crumbling, and I was questioning everything Christian.  One day, about five years ago, I was in the sunroom of my house outside Boston, running on the treadmill, and listening to a podcast.  The podcast host mentioned this song, so I went and looked it up and listened.  I was completely bowled over.  I think I must have listened to it ten more times in the next hour that day.  This song represents EXACTLY how I feel about life now.  Once, I thought that the Earth was destined for the burn barrel and that miracles happened only here and there to other people.  Now, because of so many changes that have happened in my life, I am overjoyed at the goodness and grace I experience on a regular basis, even when life is hard. While I adhere less to “rules” for how to live life, I feel like I approach life with a gravitas I didn’t have before. EVERYTHING is holy, everything is sacred.  And this makes life worth getting up for every day, even when shit happens.

3. Human, by Christina Perri

This week every single area of my life blew up in my face. I was completely knocked on my ass and forced to remember that I am not invincible and that I have limited capacity. This is the song that reminds me that while I can do alot, I’m still just a human.  I have boundaries, I can be hurt by people, I can be overwhelmed.  Being human is OK; it’s who I am in this life, and I need to remember that margin and self-care and boundaries that protect my heart are good and necessary things. This is the song that comes to mind when I’ve reached my end and all there is to do is cry and reach out to my people who stand beside me when I have nothing left.

4. Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, sung by Pentatonix

Is this not one of the absolute best songs ever written? It sums up so much of life and what it means to love, and how hard and devastating that can be. “Love is not a victory march; it’s  a cold and broken hallelujah.”  Agh!  Yes! Most love does not come easy.  Most love is painful, wrenching, heartbreaking and so often that love is not returned. But we do it anyway because love is good and right even when it doesn’t come easy.  We are baffled by life and love and all of those who we try but do not understand, and because of grace, we can say hallelujah anyway, even when we are spurned or facing death or feeling utterly broken.

5. Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol

When it comes down to it, don’t we all just want to know we’re not alone?  We don’t need to have all the answers, we don’t have to be perfect, we don’t require alot of stuff. At a heart level, I think most of us just want to know that we are seen and heard and accepted. Will someone be there if we crash and burn? Is there someone who will join us in the mindless things of life just because they want to be with us? Will anyone join us in our misery and just be with us when we aren’t able to actually offer anything in return? This is what I hear every time I listen to this song…the human desire to not be left alone.


What are YOUR life songs, and why?

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