Four strong winds that blow lonely, seven seas that run high
All those things that don’t change, come what may
If the good times are all gone, and I’m bound for moving on
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way –
The lyrics are by the Canadian singer/songwriter Ian Tyson, but they were popularized by the great (and mercurial) Neil Young, on his mega-hit 1978 album Comes A Time, in the song entitled Four Strong Winds. The song is soaked in regret and sadness, in loneliness and looking back. It is a tale of human separation, of the walls that sometimes rise between us and those we love. ‘Still I wish you’d change your mind, if I asked you one more time, but we’ve been through this a hundred times or more.’
I was reminded of Young’s plaintive rendition of the song recently during Shabbat services. From where I sit (literally and figuratively) I often know exactly what is going on inside of one person or another. Someone recently had a loss. Another person is worried about a sick relative. The person in the back corner just lost their job. The person on the isle is going through a divorce. And the list could go on and on.
And so it was that I watched a strange and painful scene unfold. Parents and an estranged child, long since grown to adulthood. The couple, sitting at one end of a row, regular Shabbat attenders. Their son entered the room. There has been almost no contact between parent and child for a long time now, the result of a long forgotten but brutal and bitter dispute that left wounds too deep to heal. The son wandered, looking for a seat. Purely serendipitously he sat in his parents row, on the other end, not realizing they were there until it was too late. But now he couldn’t move. It was a point of pride. So he sat with his back angled toward his parents, staring away from them, fixing his eyes on some point in the distance. He held a siddur loosely in his hands.
The parents also suddenly realized their child sat just a few feet down the row from where they were. When was the last time they spoke to their son? A boy they raised, loved, taught how to read, ride a bike, drive a car, catch and throw a baseball. They were so close, the same Shul, the same room, the same time, the same row. But they could not have been further away. Wrinkles of sadness and regret formed around their eyes and in the corners of their mouths.
Soon the service would be over. The son and his parents would rise, not looking at one another but intensely aware of presence, and with it lost time and a long and lonely journey. It would not end this day. The parents slowly walked out, not looking back. The son? He waited an extra minute or two, pretending to look through the pages of a prayer book. Soon he too would be gone.