Thursday, September 15, 2016

Our song

"Honey - they're playing our song!"

It's an instantly recognizable cliche. That one song that, above all others, has special meaning to a relationship. That for whatever reason, instantly makes someone recall why they fell in love with their partner. I'm curious, now that I think of it, about roughly what fraction of all couples actually have an "our song." Many undoubtedly do; some probably don't. If anyone reading this would like to comment about whether they have an "our song," and if so what it is and how it came to be as such, I'd love to hear it!

Music was an integral part of my relationship with Cara, so it's not surprising that there are a number of songs with meaning to our relationship. However, if asked to pick just one that I considered "our song," it would be an easy choice. (I suspect that Cara, if pressed, would have made the same choice as me, but honestly I can't be completely sure.)

If you're reading this somewhere you can listen to music, go ahead and hit play on this video:

I'll engage in a moment of pedantry and point out that this piece is technically not a song, because it does not contain any singing. However, I'm pretty sure that colloquially speaking, most people would refer to the tracks on Explosions in the Sky albums and other similar pieces of music as "songs."

Explosions in the Sky are an Austin-based band and one of the foremost examples of the post-rock genre, with their intricate guitar parts and sweeping crescendos coming together to create rarely matched aural beauty. I'd say that if you want anything you're doing to seem epic, just put on some Explosions in the Sky while doing it. Many people (I myself not being one of them) are familiar with the band's music from their Friday Night Lights soundtrack.

Of all their majestic compositions, "Your Hand in Mine," the final track on their 2003 album The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of sheer beauty. How was it, specifically, that "Your Hand in Mine" became "our song"?

Truthfully, it has a lot to do with the title, which is interesting to think about because a piece of music with no lyrics could theoretically be given any title. Yet somehow, the title "Your Hand in Mine" is a perfect match for this piece of music. It makes me wonder whether the band came up with the title after writing the music, or if they wrote music specifically to go with that title. In any case, Cara and I both already thought that Explosions in the Sky, and "Your Hand in Mine" in particular, were gorgeous music before we started dating. As it happened, the moment that we first held hands with each other was a very special moment for us. So special that we both mentioned that moment in our wedding vows, vows that we wrote separately from each other so that we would not know the content of each other's vows until we read them during the ceremony! So that's a big part of why "Your Hand in Mine" is so special. It's funny - if the track had any other name, I'd still consider it a superlatively beautiful piece of music, but it likely wouldn't have nearly the same meaning to me.

I've been writing a (to be concluded) series of posts about the unique way Cara and I communicated and flirted with each other using sentences in the online word game Psychobabble. In fact, that wasn't the only unusual method of communicating and flirting that the two of us developed. The other major one involved the website, a website that can be used to track all the music one listens to. A user's profile page includes both charts of their music history as well as a display of recently listened tracks. Cara and I would entertain each other by creating playlists of songs that the other could see being updated in real time on our profile pages. Some of our playlists contained songs following a specific theme, while others would spell out little stories or messages by putting a series of song titles in order. The day after that fateful day when we started dating, I made a short playlist for Cara's viewing pleasure, and "Your Hand in Mine" was included. Just like all my chat logs and Psychobabble screenshots, I also still have access to my entire listening history, now covering over 11 years, so I can still see this playlist. Read the song titles going from the bottom (the first song played in the list) to the top (the last song played).

For Valentine's Day three months later, Cara made me an amazing storybook and accompanying mixtape with one song going with each page of the storybook. I posted this on Facebook about two months ago. The song for the first page of the storybook was "Your Hand in Mine."

 So you can see why this song was so important to us. But there's also something I haven't mentioned yet. Later that night, on the same day we first held hands, we also kissed for the first time. And the music playing in my apartment when that happened? "Your Hand in Mine."

I guess now it should be pretty obvious why this was our song.

I love a lot of Explosions' music, so I would enjoy one of their shows regardless, but when I saw that they were playing a show in Columbus and I began to consider going, I thought, they had better play "Your Hand in Mine." Looking at setlists from recent shows informed me that I had nothing to worry about, as they basically always play it, not surprising considering it's the band's most popular track.

Having only seen the band live one time in the past, with Cara at the Beachland Ballroom way back in April 2008, I eagerly anticipated the Columbus show. That long-ago Beachland show was quite good, but I only have vague memories of it. I think this week's show at the Newport Music Hall in Columbus will stick with me more strongly.

It was a stunning display of musicianship, and with a stunning light show that went perfectly with the epic instrumentals.

The band played a good mix of both older and more recent selections from their catalog. This suited me well, as I quite like their latest album, but find The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place and its immediate predecessor, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever from 2001 (gotta love those post-rock titles) far superior. Several times during the show I was just in a state of awe and joy at the overwhelming beauty emanating from the stage. Definite highlights included "With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept" and set closer "The Only Moment We Were Alone." As is typical for post-rock shows, there was no encore. Unlike some other post-rock bands I've seen, there was also no extended loud feedback outro on the closer - instead the band hit their last heavy note all together and then suddenly went silent at the same time that the stage was abruptly plunged into darkness. Thunderous applause quickly filled the room, with many cries of "encore," but I knew that no encore would be coming - and none was needed after that experience.

Although every part of the show was great, the most emotional was, of course, "Your Hand in Mine." I knew it was coming. I knew it would bring up some strong feelings. I didn't know exactly how I'd react, though. I was looking forward to finding out.

My eyes did well up with tears as the song began, and I kind of just stood there in a semi-numb state, letting the music wash over me. And then a rather remarkable thing happened, as my mind's eye began to play a sort of slideshow of various scenes from my years with Cara. From the first time we met all the way to Cara on her deathbed (her hand in mine), and many moments in between. Not that they followed any particular order. That first time holding hands certainly featured heavily, and that first kiss, sitting on the floor of my dimly lit little apartment. Numerous other moments as well. Our wedding on a perfect June day. The beach in Costa Rica on our honeymoon. The moment when I proposed to Cara and she fell down in the snow, the white-blanketed landscape around us glittering in the sunlight. Cara determinedly pedaling to the finish line in the Eastern Ohio Time Trial (a cycling race that, two days before the Explosions show, I had gone to for the first time without Cara). The two of us lying next to each other in bed, gazing into each other's eyes.

Although I felt very emotional throughout the eight minutes of "Your Hand in Mine," it was only in the last minute or so that I rather abruptly went from watery eyes to downright sobbing. I'm not sure why this happened. Perhaps it was the sense of finality. It took a while into the next song before I really recovered.

Why, I can imagine some might wonder, would I actively seek out an experience that would make me feel so sad? For me, it's nothing to wonder about. Feeling sadness over loss is an important part of being human. It's good to have an outlet for such feelings. And it's also possible to simultaneously feel sadness over loss, and happiness at having gotten to experience all those wonderful moments in the first place.

(I find that I have, numerous times since last summer, asked people if they've seen the movie Inside Out. Perhaps I should write a post about that some time.)

So that's the story of my and Cara's song. Does anyone else have a story to share about their own "our song"?

And speaking of memories of Cara, there's one I wanted to share that I didn't think merited its own post, so I'll put it here. On April 18 of last year, I was driving Cara to the ER, having at the time not even the tiniest inkling that she had less than a week to live. We were driving down Carnegie and as we got to the ER I was about to make a left turn here:

Although Cara was in a bad state, she noticed and correctly pointed out what I had failed to notice, that the sign says AMBULANCE ONLY so I shouldn't turn there. I continued driving one more block on Carnegie to the correct turn-in spot. So actually, basically the last thing Cara ever did while not in the hospital was correct me on a driving mistake I was about to make. I walk by that spot every day of work, twice in fact, once in the morning going from my parking garage to the lab and then once more on the return trip. And so that memory is something I think of a lot. Kind of funny what causes certain memories to stay with you.


  1. I don't know you, but I feel like I do. I didn't know Cara, but I feel like I did. I followed her blog religiously. It broke my heart. I read about Shelli. I saw on the gofundme what you did to help raise money, and thought "I think that's Cara's husband!" which caused me to find this blog. Your love for her is a beautiful thing.

    1. That is very kind of you to say (whoever you are). Thank you for commenting.