In the 80s, when “Message in a Bottle” and “Roxane” were on the radio, I wasn’t really listening. I didn’t know Sting from Adam from Gordon Sumner.
But now I’m reading his memoir, Broken Music. How that happened is this: I was looking up version of “People Get Ready”, and I found one that Sting sung with Jeff Beck on guitar. it was a weird performance… I wondered if Sting was upset or drunk or something. But one thing really stood out. Where all the other singers I’d heard said (regarding the “train to Jordan”, something to this affect,
There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner
who would hurt all mankind, just to save his own…
Have pity on those
whose chances grow thinner…
… Sting sang instead,
There’s even room for the hopeless sinner
who would hurt all mankind, just to save his own.
Have pity on me…
I searched (and searched, and searched) and haven’t yet found any other version sung that way.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Sting, since I heard him interviewed on NPR way back when Dream of the Blue Turtles came out. Terri Gross, I think, asked about “Every Breath You Take,” and he said folks write to say how the love it, and they play it at their weddings. He said he thought the song was creepy, and, of folks who played it at their wedding, he laughed and said, “Good luck with that.” I loved him a little bit right then.
Anyway, so this led me to his memoir. I was curious. I’m about 80% through it, and, though I’m enjoying the whole thing, there was one part right in the beginning that really got me.
It’s where he talks about his first (only?) mystical experience. His happened under the influence of an “ancient medicine,” in a jungle in Brazil, but it’s clearly recognizable as the sort of mystical experience that other folks report. And it’s remarkably similar to experiences I’ve had, albeit without the help of any ancient medicines.
I love the way he wrote about it.
Yet when we walk outside into the cool of the evening, the jungle is vibrantly alive, in fact disarmingly alive, and I have never felt so consciously connected before. I may be out of my gourd, but I seem to be perceiving the world on a molecular level, where the normal barriers that separate “me” from everything else have been removed, as if every leaf, every blade of grass, every nodding flower is reaching out, every insect calling to me, every star in the clear sky sending a direct beam of light to the top of my head.
This sensation of connectedness is overwhelming. It’s like floating in a bouyant limitless ocean of feeling that I can’t really begin to describe unless I invoke the word love.
Heh. If you know me at all, I’m sure you know how giddy I was at that point.
Before this experience I would have used the word to separate what I love from everything I don’t love—us not them, heroes from villians, friend from foe, everything in life separated and distinct like walled cities or hilltop fortresses jealously guarding their hoard of separateness. Now all is swamped in this tidal wave of energy which grounds the skies to the earth so that every particle of matter in and around me is vibrant with significance. Everything around me seems in a state of grace and eternal. And strangest of all is that such grandiose philosophizing seems perfectly appropriate in this context, as if the spectacular visions have opened a doorway to another world of frankly cosmic possibilities.
Wow. Isn’t that lovely? I was rivited. And then he talked about the implications he sees in that, and that last sentence, the very last one, really, really threw me.
I have to sit down on the steps of the church in dumbstruck awe at the beauty of the jungle and the stars above my head, but it is almost too much to bear. I lower my eyes to see a small gap in the stone steps, and there in the darkness, six inches down, at the bottom of the narrow crevice formed by the rough slabs of granite, grows an exquisite purple flower. It is like a forget-me-not, five petals of magenta radiating from the central mandala of a five-pointed yellow star, reaching bravely toward the light with an extraordinary life force and I am the sole witness to the courage of its struggle. In this moment I am led to an understanding that not only must such tiny, beautiful, and delicate living things be charged with love, but also the inanimate stones that surround them, everything giving and receiving, reflecting and absorbing, resisting and yielding, and I realize perhaps for the first time that love is never wasted. Love can be denied or ignored, or even perverted, but it does not disappear, it merely takes another form, until we are consciously ready to accept its mystery and its power. This may take a moment or an eternity, and there can be no insignificancies in eternity. And if this is true, then I must continue to remember my story and attempt to make some sense of it, to try to remake the drab prose of my life into some kind of transcendent poetry.
I have always had a sort of existential angst that I don’t know how to explain. Whenever I’ve thought there might be “no purpose” to life, or that the universe is a bunch of rocks that happened to spark life, but will just go back to nothing… well, that route it suicide for me. Literally, kinda. I have diagnoses to prove it.
And I had been thinking about this more lately (again). Trying to remember what I hold on to in order not to lose hope. And then I read this. It was one of several messages I got over as many days, but definitely one of the juicier ones.
And if this is true, then I must continue to remember my story and attempt to make some sense of it, to try to remake the drab prose of my life into some kind of transcendent poetry.
And, by the way, I’m still looking for anybody else who sings the love-grace-version of “People Get Ready.”