It is not news, but every day it becomes more real. And for my generation it is becoming a pressing reality.
Every time we open our newsfeed, meet with friends, or read the local paper, another icon of our generation has fallen. This past week it was Leonard Cohen who caused us to confront the reality that we are all going to die.
Cohen, as much as any artist, consistently warned of the inevitability of death. In 1988 he challenged his audience to wake up to the reality of death singing,
Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back
They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone
I’ll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the Tower of Song
–Leonard Cohen, “The Tower of Song”
It took nearly three more decades for his “farewell” to become a final reality; but now there will be no more new Leonard Cohen songs. His physical material presence has moved “to that tower down the track.”
The finality of death brushes repeatedly against the consciousness of a generation that has lived long with the illusion of invincibility. The unavoidable awareness of impermanence presses upon us as we see that our
…friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play.
But, despite all the voices that perceive only unrelenting darkness at the heart of Cohen’s vision, faced with the reality of death, he left us glimmers of light along the way. Cohen seems to have found his way consistently to a place of hope.
In “Boogey Street”, Cohen counselled,
So come, my friends, be not afraid
We are so lightly here
It is in love that we are made
In love we disappear
As dark as his vision may at times have been there are always moments where the light breaks through. Cohen saw clearly and never shied away from the reality that much of life is “troubled dust”. But he also never failed to see that the “troubled dust” was always
An undivided love
Cohen affirms there is a deeper melody at the core of life frequently naming this deep reality using the word “love”:
I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
but love’s the only engine of survival
But, Cohen also understood that, if we are to find this love,
the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way
This may be Cohen’s greatest challenge in this troubled time. Will we allow the often horrifying realities of life to break our hearts open to the deep beauty of love at the heart of all being?
And so, as he sings in “Heart With No Companion” Cohen is able now to
greet you from the other side of sorrow and despair, with a love so vast
And so shattered, it will reach you everywhere.
Leonard Cohen ended his letter to Marianne Ihlen just before she died saying,
Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.
In the end, more than a prophet of doom, Cohen sounds like the apostle Paul who affirmed his faith in a love that is stronger than death saying,
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
(I Corinthians 13:8-13)