Sixth Sense after Sundown

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Ribbons of Moonlight

The wind was a torrent of darkness
Among the gusty trees
The moon was a ghostly galleon
Tossed upon cloudy seas
And the road was a ribbon of moonlight
Over the purple moor . . . .

Phil Ochs set Alfred Noyes’ poem, “The Highwayman,” to music–the kind of haunting, masterful but understated acoustics best heard in the quickly falling darkness of a chilly October night.  

Richard Thompson’s Vincent Black Lightning 1952, both as he plays it and as Greg Brown covered it, is another favorite acoustic soundtrack for a black autumn sky.

So strangely enough–given my day job–two of my favorite songs are about doomed couples, each featuring a strangely sympathetic armed robber.   (These young men have made perhaps among the more extreme examples of what we moms term “bad choices”….right, Susan?)

I have absolutely no explanation to offer for this–although my psychotherapist friends are welcome to weigh in.

What is it about these songs and their stories?  Why do they have such a hold on me? 

Please permit me to over-analyze.

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One is an early 20th century poem, set in the Revolutionary Era; the other song was spun in a vastly different modern time.

One misguided felonious young man travels by moonlight, on horseback.  The other travels by motorcycle, and seemingly in bright light, both on earth and in heaven.

The women are outlined in shades of red, one dark and one bright.  One lovely lady has a dark red love knot woven into her long dark hair.  The other is the motorcycle-riding, red-headed Molly.

Both songs are haunting–literally.  They feature dying words and deeds of people loved bottomlessly and unconditionally.  Of the four central players, two are done in by musket and one by shotgun blast. Only one survives.

One, James, leaves to the love of his life the single tangible thing he loves, a symbol of his own freedom once untethered to this world.

“And I don’t mind dying, but for the love of you
And if fate should break my stride
Then I’ll give you my Vincent to ride”. . . .

He reached for her hand then he slipped her the keys
He said, “I’ve got no further use for these
I see angels on Ariels, in leather and chrome
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home. . . .”

And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride

The other young man, whose name we do not learn, eternally haunts the barely-lit night roadways, trying to keep his promise to return to the woman he loves.

Oh look for me by moonlight
Watch for me by moonlight
And I’ll come to thee by moonlight
Though Hell should bar the way. . . .

These young mens’ ghosts are not Sixth Sense spirits.  They do not require intermediaries.

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I’ve listened to these songs for decades.  As with most things, I hear them now through a different but all too familiar layer of darkness.  But their cores haven’t changed: stories of  epic and infinite love that endures in haunting (the good kind of haunting, not the havoc-seeking kind, or even the sometimes meddlesome ghosts who linger to perform some task or answer worldly questions)–the love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” and never ends.

I recently engaged in the folly of keeping a noisy TV going during Halloween month, waiting for a World Series game in an all-too empty family room.  Somehow I managed not only to fulfill a promise to check out Long Island Medium, but I caught almost all of The Sixth Sense (SPOILERS WILL ENSUE)…..

I thought the show and the movie had a lot in common: in both, spirits had to step in through a living, detached third-party in order to keep some promise and answer some question still lodged restlessly in people they had loved and left behind.

Watching the medium’s show, I was distinctly unimpressed, possibly a side-effect of many years of “reading” people at work and play (especially poker): “Of course any given month would have some significance to someone inclined to have a psychic reading,” I muttered to myself.  “No kidding: someone in every family would have died after having a pain ‘in front’,” I responded to the screen.   “Well, duh.  Everyone wants their dead relatives to tell them they’re still with them.”  No offense, but it wasn’t working for me.  (Loved the New York accents, though.)

But The Sixth Sense had a different effect.

First, word to the wise: widows should be wary of this particular movie.  I had seen it many years ago and had remembered only the frightening parts–the bad kind of haunting.

When I saw it this time it broke my heart.

“To live in this world,” wrote Mary Oliver:

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

In the movie, when a ghost finally skips the middle man and directly revisits his young widow, she has fallen asleep on the couch while watching something that reminds her of her dead husband.  I have done this countless times.  As she fitfully sleeps, she releases her grip on his plain gold wedding band and it clatters to the floor.  She still wears her wedding ring.  Her ghost husband flashes back to her alone, a widow in a red dress, signing the check for an anniversary dinner.  I have occupied the same space (and very close to the same dress; Jim liked me in red).

She slumber-speaks with her husband’s ghost, her subconscious self asking him what I’ve asked–only while alone in the dark, though both we widows surely know there was no choice involved, and no answer to be had: “Why did you leave me?”  And then her husband’s ghost answers the distinct question that has haunted his mortal wife and made her unable to let go of him.

I now realize that even when we know what’s coming, and even when we know how quickly it will arrive; we still don’t always know the questions to ask while we still can.

In the “dark roaring” swirl and chaos “of events as they happen,” we may have no idea what our newly configured, tentatively standing selves will need to know “[t]o live in this world.”

I still have two questions.

Perhaps the answers will come to me some night after sundown, when the moon is a ghostly galleon.

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About Stephanie

In her spare time, Stephanie works full-time, and then some, as an attorney. She has published articles and delivered talks in arcane fields like evidentiary issues, jury instructions, expert witnesses, and forensic evidence. She also is an adjunct professor at a law school on the banks of the Charles and loves that dirty water, as she will always think of Boston as her home. You are welcome to take a look at her Facebook author page, or follow @SMartinGlennon on Twitter. All content on this blog, unless otherwise attributed, is (c) 2012-2016 by Stephanie M. Glennon and should not be reproduced (in any form other than re-blogging in accordance with Wordpress protocol and the numerous other wee buttons at the bottom of each post) without the express permission of the domain holder.
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11 Responses to Sixth Sense after Sundown

  1. I hope the answers will come to you, or the questions fade away… x

  2. becca givens says:

    I agree with bodhisattvaintraining … as for myself, I always remember and/or think when it’s too late …

    (BTW: Loreena McKennitt’s version of The Highwayman from The Book of Secrets is one of my favorites — I can play it over and over!!)

  3. scillagrace says:

    I haven’t really thought of questions I’d ask. Maybe “When did you know?” or “How did you feel?”. Even without psychic pronouncement or haunting, I know that I’ve internalized my Jim. How can you be with someone for 30 years and not become enmeshed on an unknowable plane? There’s no common word for it, but it feels like an entirely normal phenomenon. And it feels like it has nothing to do with time and chronology. This is: Jim & me. Part of the universe that is real is Jim & me. That’s the way it is.

  4. Stephanie says:

    That reminds me of yet another few lines from my favorite author, in “All The Names”: “there are three people in a marriage, there’s the woman, there’s the man, and there’s what I call the third person, the most important, the person who is composed of the man and woman together.” That person endures.

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