Listening to Our Endless Numbered Days (2005-06)

Mortality is on my mind. June 15 was the deadline for us to renew our corporate health insurance, and this month I'm applying to increase the disability insurance benefits I hope I'll never need.

Disability insurance reminds me of my college best friend who, as young as I am, still survived a heart attack and a second stroke last September. Painted indelibly in my memory is the beginning of his visit a month ago: I saw him drive his car past my building, so I went downstairs to help him carry his belongings up to my apartment. I found him on his back in the street, suffering from an atonic seizure. He recovered after an emergency room visit and anti-seizure medication, though to his disappointment the doctor recommended not driving his new BMW convertible back to Portland.

I first heard Iron & Wine in "Such Great Heights" on the Garden State soundtrack. I bought Our Endless Numbered Days on the second to last Tuesday in May after hearing my guitar instructor play "Each Coming Night":

Will you say when I’m gone away
"My lover came to me and we'd lay
In rooms unfamiliar but until now"

Will you say to them when I’m gone
"I loved your son for his sturdy arms
We both learned to cradle then live without"

Will you say when I’m gone away
'Your father’s body was judgement day
We both dove and rose to the riverside"

Will you say to me when I’m gone
"Your face has faded but lingers on
Because light strikes a deal with each coming night"
The words "Will you say to me when I'm gone/'Your face has faded but lingers on/Because light strikes a deal with each coming night'" seemed particularly poignant yesterday as Ryan and I drove to visit my maternal grandmother in Providence St. Peter's Hospital. She and her husband have moved from their duplex in Panorama City to the Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center. Grandpa's Alzheimer's requires more care than Grandma can provide.

"Teach us to number our days aright,/that we may gain a heart of wisdom." writes the psalmist. The wisdom Our Endless Numbered Days suggests is that "what's worth keeping" (a phrase from "Sunset Soon Forgotten") is a life of love. The opening song, "On Your Wings," says, "God, there's a hangman that wants to come around... God, give us love in the time that we have." The second song, "Naked As We Came" pictures lovers contemplating the inevitability of their parting:

she says, "wake up, it's no use pretending"
I'll keep stealing, breathing her
birds are leaving over autumn's ending
one of us will die inside these arms
eyes wide open, naked as we came
one will spread our ashes around the yard

she says, "if i leave before you, darling
don't you waste me in the ground"
I lay smiling like our sleeping children
one of us will die inside these arms
eyes wide open, naked as we came
one will spread our ashes around the yard
Love is in the majority of the songs, not only in "Each Coming Night" and "Naked As We Came" but also "Love and Some Verses," "Teeth in the Grass" ("and when we're lovers at last"), and "Fever Dream" ("Some days her shape in the doorway/will speak to me"). Love may even have been the motivation for the hanging crime in "Free Until They Cut Me Down" ("she's the one who begged me,/'take me home'").

Ryan chose calm music for the afternoon rush hour drive from Seattle to Lacey: Ceredwen O'r Mabinogi/Legends of the Celts, Kings of Convenience Riot on an Empty Street, and Iron & Wine Our Endless Numbered Days. Listening to the final song, "Passing Afternoon," ("There are things that drift away like our endless, numbered days") I meditated on death, life, love, and memory. With Grandma we reminisced, as she and Grandpa liked to do, of her dozen foreign travels with her first and second husbands. Briefly remembering 1972, in which both my mother and my maternal grandfather died, was perhaps inevitable. I returned to Seattle with the renewed determination to enjoy and remember while I can each endless-seeming moment of my numbered days of life and love.