Some of you may remember the song by the Doors. Released in January 1967 on their eponymously titled debut album, it was a 12 minute long guided tour through the brilliant yet burning mind of Jim Morrison, the group’s singer and lyricist. When asked about the song he explained it was written originally about breaking up with his girlfriend. Maybe so. But with its explicit references to death, its images of twisting snakes and preternatural lakes, it has always been viewed as an exploration of the end of life, of saying goodbye not for a day, not for a time, but forever.
When I was in college I spent a semester hosting a late Sunday night/early Monday morning (midnight to 5 AM) radio show on the campus station. Mostly I played Grateful Dead bootlegs and album side long jams from the Dead’s Europe ’72 record or the Allman Brothers At Fillmore East (check out the 23 minute Whipping Post on side 4 if you haven’t heard it in a while). But every show, precisely at 2:15 in the morning, the station’s phone would ring and a young man would request The End. Seeing as that he was probably my only listener how could I not comply? It was a bit eerie, hearing Morrison’s oily voice coming out of the station speakers, no one else around, the campus dark and quiet during those predawn hours.
Of course when you are young death is a distant concept, an idea you are aware of but that for the most part is entirely disconnected from your reality. Not something that actually happens to you or those you love. Maybe even a bit romantic, Romeo and Juliet-esque. But rabbis know differently. Death is a day to day reality, it is a destination, a shared fate, a deep chasm we all cross. Death don’t have no mercy in this land, sang the Reverend Gary Davis. Amen to that, brother.
Of course most of the time we all live in that ‘suspended state of disbelief.’ That we’ll wake up and have a normal day. That we will walk God’s green earth, feel the breeze, watch spring blossom in its fullness, talk with our neighbors, enjoy time with our family and friends, work, eat, drink, read the paper. Just a normal day. What did Garcia sing in Black Peter? “See here how everything lead up to this day, and its just like any other day that’s ever been.” And the truth is we have to live like that. You can’t go about your life as if you are Max van Sydow wandering through some Ingmar Bergman film, Death trailing and tracking you every step of the way. So seize the day you have, live fully, be grateful, enjoy the little moments and the great ones as well. Walk out from under the shadow and soak up the light. In today’s vernacular, that is how we (rock and) roll. All of us, one way or another.
One last thought. After referencing the Doors, the Allmans, the Dead, it is only appropriate to go all the way back to the words of the Psalmist: “This is the day that God has made. Let us exult and rejoice in it.” (Psalm 118:24) Amen to that as well.