You rarely get the chance to feel things twice. Sometimes we can revisit moments through memories or photographs, but we can never replicate the way those experiences made us feel. This is why it is so important that we remember to live in the moment as it happens, allowing ourselves to feel everything that can be felt for it will never be the same again.
Some will tell you music is a time machine, and in some respects that may be true. The right song can help cement a moment in your mind forever, and revisiting that song can help you reconnect with the person you were when that melody first entered your life. This is why so many bands have embarked on anniversary tours for their early releases in recent years. People will pay good money to feel like they did when the world seemed simpler than it does now, even if only for three and a half minutes at a time. These moments of reflection are like therapy, offering a quick fix of nostalgia-induced joy that reminds folks life isn’t all that bad. Concerts are cheaper than therapy and the drinks are better.
I spent this summer feeling nothing at all. After a seven-year relationship came to an abrupt, unexpected halt I found myself with a front row ticket to the end of my meticulously crafted reality. The life I had spent the majority of my adult years building was suddenly gone and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I felt like Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter at the end of Fight Club, only I was alone and the buildings crumbling in front of me were the things that made me feel the most secure.
We don’t need to discuss the exact moment everything began to crumble around me, but know that I could spend several paragraphs depicting every inch of the room I was standing in when it happened. A series of words spoken by the person with whom I had constructed my little corner of the world knew they wanted, perhaps needed, to get out and find themselves. It was a confession I am not sure I would have had the strength to make, and though it hurt to hear I knew it was true. It was the only truth they knew, in fact, and so without further discussion or arguing our life together became our lives apart once more.
The first week I was a total wreck. That kind of sudden separation is hard to describe to someone unfamiliar with just how intertwined two lives can become over the course of many years, but try to imagine feeling lost in a fog so thick you cannot see your hand in front of your face. In the immediate aftermath of everything I looked and behaved more like an extra from Night of the Living Dead than anything resembling a fully functional human. My apartment, having been our apartment just a week prior, became my world. I did not go outside unless I had to, and even then I wore more layers than necessary to hide (perhaps guard) myself from the rest of existence.
When my thoughts and feelings finally accepted my new reality nearly a month had gone by and summer was in full swing. Stacks of moving boxes filled the space where we once danced the night away, and not long after that they filled a rental van driven by my father. I left the city and life I had known in hopes of finding peace in the familiar surroundings of my hometown. It’s a village that lost what little excitement it had when the state rerouted the nearest highway a few years after I left for college, but it is still home to me. There is silence you can experience there that no city or suburb can offer, making it possible to legitimately feel as though one has escaped the world at large, and I hope in that silence I might find a path to a new life.
At the time I believed I was searching for understanding, but then a song entered my life that told me what I really wanted was the strength to move forward. I had taken a twenty-minute drive to a sprawling public park in Northern Indiana where I could get lost in acres of woods while the rest of the nearby world worked their day away in one of the many factories that populate our region. I was wearing headphones to keep my mind from running wild with thoughts and fears when I came across a link for a song called “North Dakota” from a band known as Hodera. I cannot tell you what inspired me to tap the URL in the middle of my Twitter feed, but I did and this is what I heard:
”I had a dream I was in North Dakota laying in a field
Where they had grown a bunch of corn, but then they cut it down
So now it’s just a place where I can lay and pretend everything’s okay
Because in this dream you were there next to me engaging in the silence”
These opening lines hit my eardrums with the force of a shotgun fired at point-blank range. Upon hearing them I immediately froze in the middle of the forest, moving ever-so-slightly a few moments later to support myself against a nearby tree. As the words and music streamed into my system I found myself holding back tears whose creation I did not yet fully understand. Within seconds I had found myself completely adrift in a sea of emotion tied to everything that had transpired in the weeks prior, none of which had anything to do with the state of North Dakota or the dream being detailed through song.
Some may hesitate to cry in a public space even if that space is a thickly wooded area where no one can be seen or heard in their immediate vicinity. I, however, am not one of those people. When the second stanza began and the line “I know there was a time when I was always on your mind” poured through my headphones my face was a mess. The bitter taste of fresh tears tinged my lips as I grappled with the realization I was afraid of being alone before I even knew the song would express a very similar fear in its chorus. The thoughts became so overwhelming that I actually found myself putting the song on repeat in an attempt to hear every line because the emotional release the song provided was so powerful it drowned out the words being sung.
After a dozen or so plays and several deep breaths I found the strength to walk again. The song continued to play on repeat, and slowly I started to sing along. “I don’t want to do this alone” felt like both a confession and battle cry to me, as though I were admitting my greatest weakness in an attempt to not let it defeat me. My fingers continued to press the buttons on the side of my phone in an attempt to make the song louder and louder, but I had long reached maximum volume. If anyone was near me they were probably quite confused by the sound (and possible sight) of a grown man weeping in the woods while talking to himself about not wanting to be alone, but I didn’t care because I now knew thing I had been searching for, the strength to move on, was within me all along. I just needed something or someone to remind me that was true, and that revelation came from Hodera.
When a song clicks with you in such a way as to cause an emotional reaction the artist behind it has accomplished something akin to a magic trick. For a few brief moments the artist or group responsible for the music that moves you has made you feel understood without them actually knowing anything about you. Their words and melodies lure you out of your comfort zone just enough to realize how harmful remaining in a place of comfort can be to your development as a person. It’s almost as if that feeling of being understood allows us to see the flaws in who we think we are at that time. Maybe we’ve known those things all along, but through music we find a way to embrace these truths and consider alternatives. We want to credit the musicians for this, and we should, but we also need to credit ourselves for being open to the possibility of change.
Hodera will release their new album, First Things First, through Take This To Heart Records on October 20. Pre-orders are available now.