I’m such a sap

From fifteen or sixteen to thirty, I don’t think I cried one time. Not when my cat died. Not when a woman I was dating was killed. And not when my mom died.

Starting in my thirties, the tears began to flow. First, only at the movies. Then, at plays. To songs. Not at my own wedding, but, eventually, at weddings. And funerals. Oh yeah – at funerals. By the time I reached the middle of my forties, I was fully in touch with my sadness. Sadness about losses I’ve suffered and sadness about losses to come. My sense of my own mortality kicked in, and I found myself easily brought into contact with the painful – if ultimately necessary – awareness of all I’ve lost, all I’ll never have.

I’m not moaning. This isn’t bad. I understand – well and truly – that the flip side of everything is, well, everything else. This is why some people have such a hard time making decisions, I think – because they understand that, as much as they’re deciding to do one thing, they’re also deciding not to do… everything else. Every choice represents loss. Every experience represents a reminder of all the other experiences I, by definition, can’t have.

So, back in the before times, I already was crying a lot. Most movies would make me cry, and not a few ads. But since March, I find myself crying not just often, but at the drop of a proverbial hat. So many things remind me of how much we all have lost.

The other day, because reasons, I googled “Colin Hay Overkill.” You remember the song, by Men at Work.

Or maybe you don’t. It had a brief resuscitation on Scrubs

and then, it came up in conversation the other day. What I found when I googled it? A portal to the rabbit hole of tears that is choir singing.

First, there was Colin Hay, just three or four years ago (when he was in his mid-, not his late, 60s) leading a choir of Brooklyn hipsters in a rendition of the song.

That alone made me tear up. For all the usual reasons: lots of people teaming up to make art is, in and of itself, moving to me. It reminds me of my adolescent experiences of… belonging… in the cult-like youth group in which I participated. I don’t exactly miss that – it was, after all, cult-like.

Many of my friends from then remained in that cult-like world throughout their adult lives. And I don’t, particularly, envy them. Actually, that’s not quite right: I do envy them. Just not completely. I envy them the ways in which they’ve maintained a sense of community and belonging throughout their lives. I just don’t envy the flip side of that belonging and community – the necessary superiority to, exclusion of, those who aren’t “in the club.”

But one of this adolescent cult’s rituals was group singing. It’s not an accident that the Hare Krishnas recruit with song. “Belonging” is a powerful feeling, and music brings it incredibly effectively.

The abstract of a dissertation linked on this very question

So watching an aging but well preserved Colin Hay sing this song from my teenage years – and doing it with a couple hundred beautiful people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s? That’s a complicated brew of nostalgia and loss and aging and death for this guy in his 50s. And my tears did, indeed, flow.

I didn’t stop, there, though. I thought to myself – “Oh, this seems to be a thing, this ‘Choir! Choir! Choir!’ thing.” And sure enough, it is. I watched over two thousand Canadians of all ages sing “Dancing Queen.”

I watched a few hundred hipsters and yuppies accompany Rick Astley, in a surreal Rick-rolling of… well, I suppose, of Rick Astley.

And it all just makes me cry. For all the usual reasons – seeing people happily together inevitably puts me in touch with my loneliness, and sadness. My existential, essential, inescapable loneliness and sadness. Not about anything I lack, exactly – my life is big, rich, highly social, and filled with love and friendship, family, friends, and lovers, colleagues and companions and all sorts of others. No, it’s more just the loneliness and sadness with which my existence naturally endowed me, my irremediable loneliness and sadness.

And, of course, there are new reasons to cry when watching choirs sing, now.

Look at these crowds of people, touching, breathing on one another, singing to one another. Enjoying one another’s physical presence and intimacy – so effortlessly. I fear we, I, may have lost this particular type of intimacy forever.

And if not forever, for a long, long, time.

[Postcript: my rabbit hole continued. Lots more songs. Lots more tears.]


  1. I used to sing in choirs too. Not necessarily cult like choirs, on the contrary, choirs meant to bring people together from different horizons and meant to help people connect, understand and love each other despite differences, nationalities, races, religions and everything you could think of, Choirs have provided me with some of the most potent experiences I have lived, beside sex and giving birth.
    And today, I can completely relate to the loneliness you describe, the utter loneliness you feel deep inside, even though you could be surrounded by millions of people. I am alone tonight. I wish I wasn’t. Such is life.
    Tomorrow I’ll be back to feeling jollier, hopefully.
    Unfortunately, with the virus becoming more active around us again on this side of the Atlantic, I don’t think choirs are going to be singing together any time soon. Who knows, maybe when I have more free time we will be able to sing together and make beautiful harmonies again? Time will tell.
    It was good reading you XO

  2. I have just found this blog. I find myself responding, resonating, with the memory power of singing with others, and finding, again, the gap that exists in me without it.

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