“What’s Really Going On Below”
The morning after 9-11, KUT (Austin) radio host John Aielli aptly began his set with the master song ”Hallelujah.” Feeling so shaken by the tragedy, the elegiac song touched me deeply, and I wept while listening as I drove home from dropping off my two boys off their Montessori program. That was the first time I heard Leonard Cohen, and I could not have known the profound impact it would have upon my life. It really is a secret chord, some kind of rich, smoky incense.
Six weeks later my four-year-old son Keaton died suddenly in his sleep–on Thanksgiving night–due to an arrhythmia, and I grasped for some kind of emotional and spiritual lifeline in the face of this devastating loss and acute grief. I called KUT and explained why I desperately needed to find out what song I’d heard on the morning of 9-12-2001. I waited for a long time while they checked their playlist and gave me the information, then drove directly to Waterloo Records, bought the cd, and listened to it for I-don’t-know-how-many days, until it became a spiritual practice.
At a strangely visceral level, I know – with a deep sense of knowing – that the singular combination of my son’s death and Leonard’s song, fundamentally and irrevocably altered my heart, my mind–an experience which helped rewire my nervous system. I’ve never been the same since. “Hallelujah” shepherded me through the darkest days of my life, helping me find my way on the bumpy path to healing. I’ve often felt that my response to my son’s death would have been entirely different if I hadn’t heard it that morning.
Instead of shaking my fist and raging with bitterness, there I was on my knees, broken-hearted, head bowed in muted gratitude, experiencing for the first time in my life that strange gift of loss, knowing–in a way that was utterly new to me–that my suffering was a sacred, renewing, and healing experience, inseparable from love, inseparable from gratitude.
I’ve also come to feel that the perfect companion piece to “Hallelujah” is “Anthem”–the ultimate buddhist gospel song, as I hear it, and now, as a contemplative-based psychotherapist specializing in loss, bereavement, grief, and palliative counseling for the dying and their families, it is my deepest satisfaction that I am privileged to the share with others the gift that was bestowed upon me by Leonard Cohen during my darkest and most radiant days.
Thank you, dear Leonard, Happy Birthday, dear Leonard, and may all your days be well!
[Originally published in a Weeva book of letters written to Leonard Cohen for his 80th birthday. Mr. Cohen notified a liason for the project that he had read all the the letters and deeply appreciated them.]