Cure for Pain

'I feel sorry for him,' my mom commented as we pulled into a spot in the parking structure for my grad-school apartment. We'd spent most of the day driving around San Diego county - I don't remember exactly what we'd seen that day - and my playlist was malfunctioning, playing Jon Foreman's 'The Cure for Pain' what seemed like every three tracks. I can't recall exactly what the previously-played song had been, but it ended on a high note and I made a joke about it, pointing out that, according to the lyrics, things worked out in the end. I think it was something by Bob Dylan, so it involved some long and convoluted story. Mom persisted, pointing out that in Jon's song, things didn't lead to a clean resolution: he was depressed about something and there was no end in sight. There was unsolved pain. I knew what she meant, but I didn't want to admit it, because the song spoke to me for reasons I was unwilling to admit.

Cure for Pain - Jon Foreman

*I'm not sure why it always goes downhill
Why broken cisterns never could stay filled
I've spent ten years singing gravity away
But the water keeps on falling from the sky

*And here tonight while the stars are blacking out
With every hope and dream I've ever had in doubt
I've spent ten years trying to sing these doubts away
But the water keeps on falling from my eyes

*And heaven knows... heaven knows
I tried to find a cure for the pain
Oh my Lord, to suffer like you do...
It would be a lie to run away

*So blood is fire pulsing through our veins
We're either riders, or fools behind the reins
I've spent ten years trying to sing it all away
But the water keeps on falling from my tries

*And heaven knows... heaven knows
I tried to find a cure for the pain
Oh my Lord, to suffer like you do...
It would be a lie to run away
A lie to run
It would be a lie
It would be a lie to run away

*It keeps on falling
It keeps on falling
It keeps on falling
It keeps on falling
The water keeps on falling from my eyes

And heaven knows... heaven knows
I tried to find a cure for the pain
Oh my Lord, to suffer like you do...
It would be a lie to run away
It would be a lie to run away
It would be a lie to run away

The lyrics express vivid grief and hurt; there is no escape, no victory. For much of grad school (as well as at least half of undergrad and part of high school), I struggled with dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder, according to the DSM-5). At some points, this was simply due to a lack of sleep; in others, relationship breakdowns or the feeling that I wasn't going anywhere and might never do so. From the moment I discovered this song, up until my final year or two of grad school, its hopelessness seemed to define my state of mind. Much more recently, these lyrics have spoken to me from the perspective of grief and loss.

In high school, I developed a particular appreciation for the thirteenth Psalm. This is a lament; it is noteworthy for its brevity at six verses and just over 100 words in most English-language translations. It is also notable for the change in tone, from one of despair to one of hope: Verses one and two speak of separation, despair, grief, desolation; Verses three and four shift to demands, an expectation the the Lord will respond favorably; the final two verses carry a tone of hope, triumph and confidence. The enemy, literal or figurative, has been vanquished. For those of us who have emerged from our battle victorious, it speaks of our victory; for those of us who have yet to emerge from the battlefield, it provides the hope that things will improve, that we will emerge unscathed, or stronger for our wounds. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, we are more than conquerors!

Psalm 13, NIV
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.

As I've dealt with grief in its many and varied forms since my mom passed away four years ago, both of these songs have provided comfort. The sheer despair in Cure for Pain acknowledged the depth of my loss while Psalm 13 reminded me of the hope I have in Christ (of which my mom would have been quick to remind me) and the promise that things will improve.

And where am I now, on the fourth anniversary of Mom's death? It's a daily battle. The focus on mental health as a result of CBT, ACT, and mindfulness therapies has given me an opportunity to step back from daily routines and demands to reflect on things. Sometimes that helps, sometimes it doesn't, even after so many years. And Psalm 13? It never fails to provide at least a little comfort.


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