FLASHBACK FRIDAY: “Morning Has Broken”

Mary Ann Brown

My maternal grandmother, Mary Ann Brown (she is both my namesake and the genetic source of my snarkiness), died three years ago today. She passed away in her sleep at the age of 93 after out-living the entire 20th century and even the first decade of a new millennium (I remember the evening we prank-texted my youngest cousin). She raised three brilliant daughters and saw 8 grandchildren evolve into relatively high functioning adults (jk my cousins are all amazing people). She taught us every card game on the planet (Quiddler being her fave), cooked delicious green bean casserole perfected exclusively by those who lived through the Great Depression, and talked me back from the emotional cliff’s edge after Bush got reelected. It was a sunny November afternoon in DC. I was on the phone with her in tears, me, the idealistic college junior, freaking the fuck out about the world’s imminent demise as a result of what…? Bad policy? She gave this inimitable chuckle of hers and talked to me about all the national elections she’d witnessed in her life.  She told me about how with hindsight, you can see that the metaphorical pendulum indeed swings inexorably back and forth across the entire spectrum of human experience, yet when you insist on standing beneath the damn thing watching it from that myopic vantage only the youth seem to stake, one apprehends nothing more than the looming shadow it casts. This simple axiom is something I’ve managed to carry with me and apply to more than the disquieting circumstances surrounding electoral politics. Like, for example, situations in which I have felt powerless to life’s inertia. Or situations in which dead certainty (regarding anything–love, friendship, one’s sense of epistemic truth) becomes crippling doubt in a matter of moments, leaving you with the feeling of numbing loss. Or the experience of slowly crawling back from heartbreak…when the jaws of hell may just finally snap you in half…You feel stamped out, exhausted and dehumanized. Yet, sure enough, (and as if by some act of alchemy), the pendulum swings.

At Mary Ann’s funeral the entire room sang an old Christian hymn “Morning Has Broken”, one of her lifelong favorites, and a beautiful and befitting send-off. And since then whenever I hear it (usually the version below, popularized by Cat Stevens) it stops me dead in my tracks. There’s something indelible and compelling, albeit it elementary, about the chord progression–it starts off in the key of D major and then jumps to C within the first few bars before the opening verse begins (a common device used to  induce the feeling of physical transcendence). Halfway through it switches back to D, keeping us in its grips, only to fall to C again. Back and forth it goes for the track’s entirety. By the end it feels like you’re dismounting an emotional roller coaster. This is one of my favorite kinds of songs to listen to: simple and physically gripping in equal measure, all as a result of exceptional composition. The truths expressed lyrically are universal, and coalesce with those exact words of wisdom that she imparted to me nearly a decade ago: A new morning awaits, and you should praise it, for whatever it may bring whether it be adversity or peace, joy or  pain. It comes and it goes. And it’s going to teach you something about yourself, which is all we really have in the end.

Listen with your eyes closed (unless you want to see a montage of Cat Steven photos–even though holy shit he was hot in his youth).

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