I can still hear The Byrds’ crystalline, jingle-jangle sound as they brought Old Testament wisdom to life:
Turn, turn, turn…
There is a season,
Turn, turn, turn…
And a time to every purpose under heaven.”
The year that they took “Turn, Turn, Turn” to Number 1 on the charts, my mother was a Home Economics teacher at Bolton High School, Alexandria, Louisiana, and I was in the 6th grade, where I spent my days madly in love with The Beatles. For me, the Byrds’ song had a gorgeous melody and a real hook, but honestly, the words were kind of…well, scary. “A time to break down” made me uncomfortable. “A time to weep,” when gruesome reports of Vietnam filled the nightly news, scared me. And “a time to be born, a time to die” was terrifying. The lyrics were so foreign to me then, so far removed from the childlike emotions I understood.
But now, “a time to die,” has become all too real. I lost my remarkable mother five years ago, and my dad, three years after that. Three of my dearest friends in The Beatles World are mourning the loss of their moms right now. And many others of us have losses fresh in our memories. Our sweet Carol Lapidos, for example, posted on John Lennon’s birthday a “Happy Birthday!” to John and Sean…and to her dearly departed father-in-law, Mark’s dad, as well. All of us are missing someone cherished. All of us are learning — first-hand — about the complicated emotions intertwined in loss, mourning, and remembrance. All of us are finding our way in this new season.
In 1965, when I first heard the Byrds’ lovely and haunting rendition of the words from the book of Ecclesiastes, I knew so little about death. I had only lost a grandfather whom I had never had the opportunity to really know. But a year later, I lost my quiet and faithful companion, my sweet cocker spaniel, Beau…and the reality of “a finite existence” began to sink in. Separation and acceptance became more tangible than they had ever been, and I started to value the importance of memories. In 1966, I learned to grieve.
And at a mere 13-years-old, the one healing unguent that got me through the pain of loss was The Beatles. Their music made sadness bearable. Their sound assuaged pain. Getting lost in the melody of “This Boy” or “In My Life” stopped the tears. The Beatles were a panacea.
And you know what? Very little has changed. Today, my friends and I (all ardent Beatles fans) are calling upon the same balm to tend our wounds. Fifty years later, we are still turning to the soundtrack of our lives as we — the ones left behind in this place called Earth — recall, remember, and re-target our lives. The Beatles still seem, somehow, to understand as John spools out his own heartbreak in “Yes, It Is.” As the boys seem to offer “a way forward” in “I’ll Follow the Sun.” Their lyrics, though written for them and about them, somehow fit our lives so well. We feel an inexplicable kinship with these four lads from Liverpool, lads we’ve never met and yet, have always known.
In that vein, I sat down a few years ago and wrote a poem for a friend who was walking through her own “Valley of the Shadow.” I so hoped that the words would strengthen her heart, and today I hope that wherever you are on your journey, she and I can share them to touch your spirit as well.
My safe place,
My known against the unknown,
My run-to, go-to shelter after midnight,
My flickering light up in the window,
Far back as I can go,
Far forward as I can imagine,
Reverse and forward,
Stop and pause…
They were always there:
A net beneath me,
A hiding place,
A room sequestered from the world
A vault where I could hide.
I huddled close beside them
And deftly hid my head,
Nowhere Man and Silver Hammer,
Mr. Moonlight, Lovely Rita,
Celebrated Mr. K
Performing feats on Saturday…
And standing in the gaps
Of the Helter Skelter in my brain.
Pretty little policemen, guard me.
Octopus’s garden, hide me.
I’m on my way home,
I’m on my way home…to you.
In the play-out tracks,
I heard they had a message
(Backwards perhaps and not in tune)
And I am there as well,
Covered in music,
Wrapped in lyrics,
Sheltered in their sound
You can find me.
I am there,
If you are there with me…
Turn up the music. Turn up the hope. Turn up the volume and shout aloud these words that I would love to say to you in person: “You are not alone. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”
Winston Churchill said to all of us, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Remember that seasons change. Nothing stays the same. If you are in a season of distress, it will dispel. If you are in a season of pain, it will fall away. If you are in a season of sadness, hang tight. We are a Beatles family, and together, we can do what we need to do.
Turn, turn, turn…you can go on.
Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com