Just like good music, death makes a strong impression on a seven-year-old. The young mind, still forming emotions and reactions that will last a lifetime, takes in every scrap of information around him to try to make sense of the world he’s in. His world is one of grown-ups — parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, even cousins.
I was the last child born into the family — a surprise. I wasn’t supposed to be here. As a child, my world constantly tried to reconcile itself with the one around me, the one everyone I knew lived in. It was the world of any number of grown-up decisions about life, money, work, friends, love, or just what to eat or watch on TV. Because of my tender age, I had little or no say in any of these things in my own life. My young, but sharp mind latched onto any anything it could to learn, to survive and thrive. In this regard death is a masterful teacher.
After a lengthy battle with cancer my best friend’s father died when we were both seven. I had spent a lot of time at his house, and had even been to his father’s office a couple of times. Once when I complained to my mom that I didn’t want to go kindergarten, she relented and let me stay home that day. Later that morning I went with her to run errands and we found ourselves at my friend’s father’s office (he was an attorney in our small town).
To my surprise, my friend and his mom were there — she had allowed him to play hooky also. As our parents took care of whatever business they had, we played on the floor of his father’s office, perfectly oblivious to the world around us. His death a year or two later taught me that life is often cold and cruel, and able to remove people from our lives without hesitation.
For me, a short time after my friend lost his father, death became associated forever with one particular song — “Let ‘Em In”. This track is found on the same Wings album as “Silly Love Songs” and “Cook of the House”. I must have had this song on a 45 record also because I know I didn’t have the entire album on an LP.
I will never forget listening to “Let ‘Em In” shortly before the phone rang that late summer afternoon. A local church youth group had left out early that morning for a canoeing trip. One of my oldest brother’s friends somehow drowned in the river they were on. I knew of this boy, because he had visited our house and had spent some time with my brother.
When I learned of the reason for the call, my young mind nearly went over the edge. Emotion overwhelmed me. I cried. I didn’t understand death and didn’t know why people I knew had to keep dying. It seems that there had been another death around the same time, making this teenager’s drowning the third recent death of someone I knew. I was scared and confused. I felt powerless to stop the onslaught of this horrible, dark thing called death, with which I had had no experience until recently.
I grabbed the phone and, even though my mother was home, dialed the only person I thought would understand — my best friend’s mother. Death had just laid claim to her husband, so surely she would understand the crushing wall of fear and darkness I felt at that moment. When she answered, I wailed into the phone, “It’s happened again…Somebody’s died.” She tried to calm me down as best she could. At that point my mom came into the room.
After that afternoon and until recently, I never intentionally listened to “Let “Em In” again. There were a handful of times afterward that I unwittingly heard the song. Each time I relived the pain, darkness, and powerlessness of that afternoon. The song was and is one of the most profound emotional catalysts of my life.
Not long ago I decided to pull the song up on my computer. I made myself listen to a few lines of it to see if it still had as profound an impact on me as when I was a kid. The emotions weren’t as strong, but they were still unpleasant. Just letting the flute line run through my head sends me crashing back to my childhood with full force.
I think I’ll just leave the song back in my childhood where it belongs.