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Tied for First: Songs to be better

Finding winters for sweaters

I’ll never get over my fascination with the power of chance. Ever. As someone raised with no grounding faith, circumstance and chance will forever captivate how I make sense of the world. When it rains on bad days, I’m like, "Yep." When it’s sunny on good days, the same.

It’s not a perfect system though — some days I’ll wake up believing everything happens for a reason and that chance plays into some semblance of a bigger, cosmic picture, and some days I’ll wake up and believe we’re all just pixels in someone’s virtual Barbie Dream House. I know it’s all superstition, but to the best of my ability, I need to make sense of a meaningless world. And that’s why chance, in some ways, tethers me to this moon rock and makes this conglomerate of happenings we call life mentally click. 

But chance doesn’t always serve me well. Chance tells us how, but doesn’t always tell us why. 

I was in a stranger’s home the morning I got the call that my good friend had passed away. Savannah, Ga. My friend was in the kitchen, making scrambled eggs — I think with shredded cheese. Without a word, I drifted across the creaky floorboards onto the back porch. The sun was blinding. It was a gorgeous day out, which to me, felt incongruent. It was beautiful all morning, and the entire five-hour drive back home. I expected rain. 

But the rain definitely came. Being back at school, a space we once shared, felt like a strangely fragmented continuity — my every step like walking into a flowerbed of broken glass, my stagnance allowing their jagged vines to quietly crawl up my neck. In moments of desperation, I tried to find answers and meaning anywhere and everywhere. One night, by chance, my feet and legs carried me to mass — which, by the way, if you’ve never been, beware. Apparently there’s a whole hour-long synchronized dance. It didn’t help.

Confronting grief head-on wasn’t helping, either. I tried listening to “A Crow Looked at Me” by Mount Eerie, a record renowned for being, well, extremely depressing. Phil Elverum, the man behind the moniker, wrote the record after his wife passed away from pancreatic cancer. The final track of the album, “Crow,” details a story of Elverum taking his daughter to a park and seeing a crow — playing into the record’s extended metaphor of his late wife embodying a crow. The last line on the record, a body of work I put so much expectation into giving me answers, was simple and somber — “and there she was.” That pissed me off. 

At a certain point, I got frustrated with my fruitless pursuit for explanation and meaning — I just wanted to find escape. “Don’t Know When I Will Believe” by Shy Girls happened upon me when I needed it most. By chance. I found peace in that song because it sounds like some melancholy march into the unknown, and most days, I just needed the strength to lace up my shoes. To march. And truly, like the chorus suggests, I felt comfort in knowing that somewhere else in the universe, someone else didn’t know when they’d believe. Because neither did I. The closing string section felt like liberation. I never wanted it to end, and when it did, I’d rewind and keep walking. Rewind and keep walking. 

I still don’t have answers — it’s not like I pray to chance and circumstance. But two years removed, what’s ultimately changed is that I’ve come to terms with not having answers — I don’t think I need them anymore. I’m okay with just being — being, with the understanding that the simple act of being is courageous and beautiful, and my inability to understand is also courageous and beautiful. Being as we write this never-ending love letter we call grief, littered with ink blots. Sometimes, we can’t make out what’s being said, and most of the time, we’re pretty sure it’s never going to end. But we keep writing, writing and writing, because the pen and our hands are one.   

I’ve been listening to “Picture Me Better” by Weyes Blood a lot recently. I’m not going to pretend like writing that love letter isn’t incredibly difficult, but this song makes me feel a little less alone. 

The chorus of “waiting for the call from beyond / waiting for something with meaning” sits me down where I stand. I’m making peace with waiting. Every lyric of this song floats in the waters of my mind — I acknowledge their presence, and they are home. “If I could’ve seen you just once more / tell you how much you’re adored.” “Picture us better / we finally found a winter for your sweater / got a brand new big suit of armor, it’s tough / since you left, I’ve grown so much.” 

I write this article with a couple of understandings. One, the understanding that this is how I choose to utilize the last time I’ll have this platform. I’m making peace with finalities. Two, the understanding that this is an imperfect article, the understanding that I won’t be able to capture everything worthy of being captured. I’m okay with grief being imperfect. Three, the understanding that the songs I’ve written about here, and every single one of the songs that have carried me over their shoulders into the version of myself that I am today, fully embody what I mean when I say “tied for first.” I’m okay with leaving it at that. 

I think we’re being and being better, Rehan. We’re trying to make the world a little more beautiful, little by little. And I’m not sure if I’ll ever believe that we live in a world without you, but I do know that I believe in you — and that’s enough to get me through. I see you in every step, and I breathe you in my every breath, because I make the choice to move in your remembrance. We make the choice to move in your remembrance. 

There’s a bench, dedicated to your memory, outside of the dorm you used to live in. When I first visited after it was built, I saw a beetle, sitting on the arm rest. I visited you there last week, and there was a beetle, sitting on the arm rest. And there he was. 

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