The other day, I watched the biopic of the troubled, self-destructive singer Johnny Cash, Walk the Line. The movie opens with Cash as an unsuccessful door-to-door salesman, promising his anxious wife that he will make good, when he comes across a record producer and lands an audition for himself and his band, prompting this response. This is the defining moment in the movie, the moment at which Cash is confronted with the question 'If you were nearing death and only had time to sing just one song, what would your song be?'
It's a profound question. Now, I'm not much of a singer; if I were lying in a gutter on the verge of the hereafter, I doubt that I'd want to sing anything at all. However, I do love music, so maybe for me the question might be better asked 'If you were nearing death and only had time to listen to just one song, what would your song be?'
For a music lover like me, that's a real toughie. The song that defines me today is not the song that defined me last week, or last month, or last year. Yes, I do have favourites, songs that I carry around in my soul like well-worm seashells a child might carry in his pockets, songs that speak to me, of me and for me. But to choose just one? Just one song?
This isn't an altogether abstract question. I've sat with grieving people as they've striven to find the 'just one song' for their loved one's funeral. Sometimes it's an obvious, instant choice. Sometimes it's hard work, and takes time, to work out what the 'just one song' was for their parent or spouse, the song that speaks for, of and to the loved one, and all who gather to mourn. (Of course, funerals normally have more than 'just one song.' But there is often one particular piece of music that has that 'bingo' effect, that says it all more eloquently than any eulogy ever could.)
Back to Johnny Cash. If you've seen the movie, you'll know that the audition ends well, with Cash and his band finding their signature style and going on to achieve great fame, as well as much desolation until...well, you might not have seen it, so I'll leave it there. As I say, I'm not much of a singer. I do believe, though, that each of us has a metaphorical 'song to sing' in our lives, a gift, however humble or everyday it may seem, to offer, a way of expressing ourselves for the benefit of others. Your 'just one song' might be something artistic, like oil panting, pottery or woodwork. It might be something caring like looking after children, the elderly, or nursing. It might be something conceptual like philosophy or mathematics. It might be something obviously spiritual, like intercessory prayer or leading worship. It might be something administrative, in which case I applaud you. It might even be something musical. It might be that your 'just one song' is polyphonic and combines notes of all these and more. Finding our 'just one song', the things that we are to do with our lives that sing the song by which we would like to be defined, may be an instant, obvious choice. Sometimes it is hard work, and tales longer. But it is so worth the work.
One of my favourite bands, The Indigo Girls, wrote this song, Fly Away, which seems to evoke similar thoughts. It's a lovely song. As they say, the saddest song is the one that never makes it to the world. May we all find the 'just one song' that God our creator has fashioned us, in his own image, to sing.