By the Waters of Babylon

My wife, Joy and I just started watching Mad Men. Frankly I was a little bit leery about rehashing the 1950s and its prevailing attitudes. Drinking, smoking, antisemitism, treating women badly was the norm back then. The protagonist, Don Draper, is a mysterious, emotionally empty Madison Avenue ad agency creative director. Little by little we learn more about him.

In one episode there is a scene in a coffeehouse. A sole musician began to play a mandolin. Then he began to sing. The name of the round was ‘By the Waters of Babylon’. As the sections of the tune overlaid each other, the singing and the mandolin combination seemed to trigger an emotion in Draper.

Although I did not recognize the title of the song, I remember this round from childhood. I used to play mandolin and dearly loved to join in with other musicians and contribute to the sound that filled the space in which we were playing. I would love to be able to sing, but when I’m moved to sing I can’t. My throat seems to close with emotion.

The performance of ‘By the Waters of Babylon’ in Mad Men was very beautiful. I got weepy.

I woke up this morning with this tune in my mind. I got weepy again.

Why I would dream this song?

For those of you who are new to my blog, some background is appropriate. My mother died a little over a month ago. She had her 90th birthday the week before. I have been trying to understand my personal grieving process, which is nothing like anything I’ve read about. In a way, I feel as blocked the Draper character on Mad Men. I seem to be handling my loss on an intellectual level. I have only had a few instances where I want to call Mom to tell her something, only to realize that she is gone.

Did my subconscious spark this tune in my head because I felt sad? Or did I remember it in my sleep because I needed a feeling of sadness in my consciousness? Does sadness count as grief even if it is not obviously related to the source of grief?

I think that the nostalgia of this tune, its beauty, my need to sing along with it, to add my own voice to be part of that sound is all about missing the past. My mother is included in this now that she is part of the past.

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