I was driving home from my younger son’s house a few miles north of my own, listening to Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” and crying. I played the song from the music library on my phone, once and then over again, singing and tearing up. Again and again.
“It’s you. It’s about you,” I said aloud to myself.
I pulled the car over to the shoulder and found the lyrics on a website on my phone. I texted them to my son. Read this, I wrote. Don’t blow it off. Read.
As the story goes, Gabriel wrote the song when he was finally ready to break off from his original band, Genesis, and was to head out on his own path, his own artistic journey. But the song is bigger than that, deeper. It is clearly about finding one’s own way and believing in it. It could be about any of us. Gabriel said so himself in later interviews.
Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home.
The eagle mentioned in the first verse of the song is the angel of destiny, a sign that it was time to believe in your own life.
My son had had his struggles in his earlier life, both of my sons had—health, emotional, and they had found themselves at times with a loss of direction and purpose. Many of us go through such things. I did. Still do from time to time. But most recently, my younger son, the one who’d received my text of the lyrics, had taken on a new career, one he had so desperately wanted to discover. He’d married a year ago and now had a baby on the way. And more than ever, he was happy, the happiest I had seen him in many years.
The eagle had flown out of the night and had come to take him home.
After Gabriel’s song played five or six times, I allowed the car to be silent, hearing only the rushing wind and the rumble of wheels on pavement. It was time to collect myself, to balance my head. A few minutes later, I turned on the radio and heard the news.
The world was burning. Wildfires. Endless smoke. Hellish temperatures. Covid raging again. Shootings in Chicago neighborhoods. Children dying. Senseless violence. The war in Afghanistan lost. Desperate people. A waste of twenty years and the many dead. Cuba, Haiti, and starvation in Ethiopia.
I longed for that eagle in Gabriel’s song.
I thought of my granddaughter, the one who would come into this world in a few months. Saige Ann Berner. What kind of world would this be for her?
Every generation talks about how it was better somehow in “their day.” We know that’s not true. Racism is still with us despite forward progress. The horrible story of George Floyd and others reminds of that. Better back in the day? African Americans couldn’t drink from the same water fountain. Of course it wasn’t better. But it’s not better now, either. It’s not. It’s just different. Different good and, yes, different bad. Look at any part of society and culture and you can see the progress and the horrible missteps.
Still, the world today feels more desperate. Time is more of the essence. The lack of a common understanding of fact and science is skewed and muddied. We have lost our center, and with continued divisiveness, our desperation has only deepened.
I turned off the radio, rolled down the driver’s side window, and allowed the wind to rush in.
Those who come before wish happiness for their sons and daughters. We long for them to be content, to find someone to love, discover work that matters. We want them to find purpose and we urge them to embrace joy at every chance because there will always be inevitable heartache. But what does happiness mean in this current world? What is contentment now? What is purpose? Have these things changed, are they different from back in “the day?” And if they are, which they must be, how can anyone guide a child through such a labyrinth?
I turned the radio on again. This time to music. No more news.
Hello darkness, my old friend.
Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” played through the speakers, a song about humankind and society’s failure to communicate, to understand, and how we bow to the “neon gods” of consumerism and the greed of capitalism. It’s a stark commentary that holds up nearly sixty years after it was written. Not much has changed, has it?
And at the end of the song, there is one of its most poignant lines.
The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls.
That lyric has been interpreted as being an indictment on consumerism, advertising, the placards and billboards that cover our communities, hawking goods we think we need—the perils of capitalistic waste.
But that lyric has always meant something different for me.
“The words of the prophets” are not the advertisements, they are the scribbled messages all around us, the graffiti, the words of the people—the true prophets—calling for justice, for fairness, for love. What’s written on the subway walls and tenement halls are the prays of the people. '
I sang the line along with the radio, and a kind of hope returned.
There is always room for hope, even today, even now.
“Write your words on those walls, Saige,” I said out loud.
When Simon and Garfunkel ended, I returned to my music library and Peter Gabriel.
My heart going boom, boom, boom.
They’ve come to take me home.