When I was a very small child and I needed comfort for whatever reason, sometimes my mother would sit up on her bed and take out her guitar. I would sit beside her and she would sing to me. It didn’t really matter what the song was; I sang with her, and we would make music together. It was closeness and connection, a reminder that not everything had to be hard. There was goodness to be found.
Recently many of us have needed that kind of comfort. The rise of open race hatred, misogyny and religious intolerance in the United States and elsewhere is terrifying. For many it has been a wake up call, bringing new clarity to the work we have before us. There are entire communities at risk, and it is up to each and all of us to be allies to these communities and to one another. There are principles of human rights, human dignity, and respect for the environment which will need defending.
But it can be hard to get started in that work when the weight of it seems so heavy. After all, the usual day to day events of our lives go on – school, work, getting ready for the holidays, and everything else that fills our attention. When we combine all of these things with the national mood, it becomes easy to get depressed or defeated, or to turn our attention entirely away from the need that seems so much greater than our ability to help.
That’s where the singing comes in. Several years back, when I was producing a CD to honor the folksinger Utah Phillips, I learned a relatively unknown song of his called “Singing Through the Hard Times,” which eventually became the title of our album. “We are singing through the hard times,” he wrote, “working for the good times to come.” These were exactly the kinds of times he was thinking about when he came up with this verse:
And when the war clouds gather, it’s so easy to get angry
And just as hard not to be afraid.
But you know in your own heart, no matter what happens
You just can’t turn your back and walk away.
Our “singing through the hard times” may take any number of forms; it doesn’t need to be musical. We might share food, do art, or enjoy conversations with people we love. We might come together in congregations, gatherings or holiday celebrations. Whatever it is that we do, it will be important to keep our spirits whole and strengthen our hearts as well as our communities for the work ahead of us.
Then we do the work. Bringing “the good times” will take the dedicated effort of a great many people, and we know it won’t be easy. It will be up to all of us together to protect those who are unsafe, speak up for those whose voices are taken away, rebuild broken relationships and begin to create new and stronger ones with all kinds of people. That’s our task, and as daunting as it is, others have done this work before, and successfully. Now it is our turn.
So hand in hand together, we help each other carry
The light of peace within us every day
And if we can learn to live it and walk and talk and give it
The world of peace won’t be so far away.
Sing through the hard times. Work for the good times to come.
“Singing Through the Hard Times,” from the Righteous Babe CD, with footage from U. Utah Phillips