A paradox & a Leonard Cohen song


Earlier this year, while staying in a tree house, on the edge of a dance floor in Turkey, I wrote a poem. These are the last few lines.

Somewhere, between a daughter being born and a sister dying
I have learned how to love life and long for death at the same time
That both are true – that I am as full of tenderness
as of despair.

This is the paradox. That while I’m not suicidal, and am attached to and grateful for my life, I do so lust after and long for my death, as well. It can be a tricky thing to talk about, so I don’t much. Tricky, because people do hear, suicidal, or they hear that I’m not okay. Neither of those things is true and I really don’t need anything, except to be able to weave my own narrative threads, into the conversations that matter. And mostly I do that, because I have exceptional friends and community. I do notice though, that I whisper, and that this longing of mine doesn’t get as much group airtime as the sister who longs for an emotionally literate partner, or the brother dreaming of a radical career change. I know, I know… we humans don’t dance so easily with mortality and death, let alone a person grooving in the territory between desperate for, and excited by, it. 

Is this longing related to my lifelong depression? Yes, I’m sure it is. Depression is tiring, wearying, often overwhelming and relentless. Being in the world has always been a bit tricky for me. At some fundamental level, it doesn’t feel like my natural habitat. It has taken a long time and a lot of sweat and prayers, to get here, like this. To find a kind place and some ease with what is, even when it isn’t easy.

I can tell it like this – I’m on an amazing round the world trip, full of adventures and riches and… I’m ready to go home now. I want to lay my head down on my own pillow. In this metaphor, embodied life is the trip, and the longing is to slip out of my somewhat battered human form and into the mystery of being gone.

The Leonard Cohen song in this instance, is – Night Comes On. If you aren’t a student or devotee of Mr. C, you may well not know it. (I have attached it to the end of this post, for your delectation) I don’t know if its my favourite Leonard song, mostly because he is so, heart and lyrically, pitch perfect, that the whole hierarchy of favourite or best, collapses. And, its all very personal. He writes from very personal places and we receive him very personally, in ourselves, as he practices his art with exceptional intimacy. So, while I cannot say where this song sits in any kind of list, it is especially dear to me. 

This is a quiet song. Some have called it bleak, but not me. I feel it as a flood of tenderness and longing and almost unbearable resonance. What touches me most, is that the longing to ‘cross over’ and ‘go home’ are infused with spaciousness and a kind of luminosity. It feels true in me, this space and light. I love the collision of that longing to go, with the surrender to ‘go back to the world’. I love his salute to the son and the daughter, that helped him to stay. And I especially love the last verse, conveying the ordinary pleasures and possibilities of life in the world, with friends and cats and and a beer in Bill’s Bar. Life rolling on with us in it, and yes, that can even include, a fierce longing for death. I find a piece of myself in this beautiful song and am as ever, so grateful to Leonard. Some years ago, I took my iPod and a dock to my relatively new therapist, trusting, just about, that this was going to help her understand me. I can report back that it did, and that now she knows Leonard a little better than she may have done otherwise, as well.

I suppose what I most want to convey, is that I’m doing okay here. That, maybe I’ll see you in Bill’s Bar? This is not suicidal ideation, even though I do dream of dying. I have been suicidal and it was a ravaged shoreline. This is a quiet place. It is sometimes arctic, sometimes bleak and unforgiving, and yet paradoxically peaceful too. I cry out and laugh out loud in it. I kick and scream and pray not to get too much older, in it. It is a receptive and compassionate place. It receives me like a baby and Leonard sings ‘If It be Your Will’ to me, over and over, even if I haven’t turned the music on.


I am linking a recording of this song, when it was brand new in 1985. It includes a stumble over his own lyrics. If you are interested in how he has travelled with this song over the years, there are several versions on YouTube from his recent long and winding tour.

4 thoughts on “A paradox & a Leonard Cohen song

  1. Very moved by this post, Caroline. I don’t know of anyone else writing about this place, and you do so beautifully. To read it expands my heart and compassion, for myself and others – not just in a similar place but generally, however we are in life. Thank you.

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