There have been three or four times since I turned eighteen when my life came to a major crossroads and every single time, before I hit that crossroad, before I even saw that fork in the road coming, a certain song followed me everywhere. It haunted me in the way that good songs do but also in a way that was impossible to ignore. The song was Don McLeans’s American Pie.
I am not a person who believes in “signs” like this but maybe I have started to believe that God makes sure I hear it, a gentle early warning device. Let me explain.
The first time it happened I had just turned eighteen. Back then, a clock radio woke me up each morning and in one week I heard crackle and static and the words: “A long, long time ago/I can still remember how that music used to make me smile/And I knew if I had my chance/That I could make those people dance/And maybe they’d be happy for a while.” Each morning I blinked my eyes open like a struggling baby owl, the song starting in a different place, and thought only: how weird, but at least it’s a good song to start the day.
The next week it continued to wake me up and followed me on the car radio when I drove to and from school and friends’ houses. I could not get away from it. “Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry and good ole boys were drinking whiskey n’ rye singing this’ll be the day that die…”
It got to the point where I honestly wondered if it did mean something. Was I going to die? That sounds dire but if you know the background of the song it wasn’t that farfetched (except that this whole story is farfetched) and this song was following me everywhere I went.
Slowly, though, it faded away and all of a sudden some major decisions that would affect the trajectory of my life came into view. I forgot about the song. There were bigger things to worry about. I made good choices and I made bad choices. But there can be no regrets because they led me here and God was and still is good. I put the song out of my mind because I simply forgot about the way it followed me around.
Until several years later when I heard it two days in a row and I remembered that brief time in my life and a buzz started inside of me. “No,” I thought. “This can’t mean anything.”
“Did you write the book of love/And do you have faith in God above/If the Bible tells you so?/Now do you believe in rock and roll?/Can music save your mortal soul?/And can you teach me how to dance real slow?”
Again, the song haunted me. It’s a song that makes me both happy and sad. It makes me want to sing along, and to dance, and feel nostalgic all at the same time. It has no particular personal meaning except for what I am explaining here. And yet, again after a few weeks of hearing it everywhere I turned, it faded away abruptly. In its wake, I was left with big career questions, and I ended up across the country in San Francisco.
There have been other, smaller times where it’s followed me that have been precursors to something. But to be honest, it has gotten to the point that when I do hear it, my ears perk up and my soul feels like an antenna. I wonder: is something about to happen?
I was talking to one of my best friends this weekend as she celebrated her Bridal Shower and she was a mix of emotions. At one point, I said, “In simple terms, a new part of your life is beginning and an old part of your life is ending. It has to end in order for the new to be born and so, of course, your emotions are all over the place.” On the way home from the Bridal Shower weekend in the country, guess what song I heard?
I happened to be caravanning with her younger sister for part of the long ride home, who would shortly after the song ended, take the fork opposite me to go back down to school where she will graduate in a week–a part of her life has to end in order for the new part to be born–and as I sang along with the words I wanted to cry.
“I met a girl who sang the blues/And I asked her for some happy news/But she just smiled and turned away/I went down to the sacred store/Where I’d heard the music years before/But the man there said the music wouldn’t play.”
Because being at a crossroads is the same thing as something ending in order for something new to be born. I was tenderhearted to leave my good friend, only to see her in a month at her wedding, and to say goodbye to her sister, who is at a particular crossroads I remember well. I wondered what was to come for all of us, not in scary way and not an exciting way. But where would be in a year? In two? In ten?
At the same time, I was reminded that some things don’t change but evolve into something rooted so firmly and completely that despite endings and beginnings, that one thing remains perfect with all its imperfections–like the love and devotion between sisters like these. So very many things will change in our lives and if we want to grow, we will change with them. And yet what remains is something altogether marvelous in its simplicity like a spring sunset and strong like the heaviest of anchors.
But then I started singing Bye, bye Miss American Pie…
P.S. The part that is strange this time is that I don’t have a car because I live in the city and therefore don’t listen to the radio. I choose the music I listen to and so the one time I drive for an extended period of time, the song came on. Life is a mixture of the bitter and sweet which is perhaps why the song itself is such a catchy tune and yet tells the story or allegory of the death of three musicians in a plane crash.
P.P.S. I could take pictures of these two gorgeous gals any day of the week. In fact, I just want them to play dress up and let me take photos of them.