By Sister Judith Ann Zielinski, OSF
Working from home during the COVID lockdown, I spend a lot of time in my living room chair, feet up, writing on a laptop balanced on a pillow. I have Alexa play me the music of artists like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Joan Baez, Judy Collins– poets who are also musicians, and whose songs are commentaries on life and love and the human condition.
Leonard Cohen, a Canadian Jew whose music reflects a lifetime of wrestling with the human, the mystical, and the divine, has long been one of my favorites. I have played one of his songs—“Everybody Knows” over and over, amazed at its prescience about what I am feeling these days:
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died…
And everybody knows that you’re in trouble
Everybody knows what you’ve been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it’s coming apart
Take one last look at this sacred heart
Before it blows
Yes, “everybody knows” in their guts that we’re in trouble. My daily challenge is to believe in spite of the pessimism the song articulates so well. Yes, we are living through a pandemic in fear for our lives. Yes, the economy is frozen. Yes, we cannot socialize with our friends and see our elderly loved ones. Yes, we find ourselves living in an angry, divided country where respect for truth, the rule of law, even America’s founding ideals seem endangered. Politicians contradict scientists and medical professionals. And social media? It’s a warzone with clearly-demarcated camps of predetermined conclusions, facts be damned.
Meanwhile, immigrant children remain locked in cages, people of color are murdered in public, convicted political criminals are pardoned and walk free while the poor and vulnerable struggle to stay alive. And everybody knows.
When that tsunami washes over me—usually daily– I feel buried by despair. Until grace breaks through and I remember that we are all brothers and sisters born of love, intertwined by love, and that “Love will win.” It is not mine to solve everything (as if I could!) In fact, it is mine not to know, not to control, not to fix. Instead, I am called to do what is mine to do where I can, and that is enough.
Or as Leonard Cohen sings elsewhere in a lesser-known stanza of his famous song “Halleluiah”:
I did my best, it wasn’t much,
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch,
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but “Hallelujah”
That’s not too shabby a daily practice, during a pandemic or otherwise. Thanks, Leonard.