In the spirit of National Poetry month, I selected a song which – as with most poetry – did not make sense to me at first. The buildup is austere and straightforward, but I did a horrific job of interpreting the punchline. If you haven’t heard the song “What Sarah Said” and aren’t fond of reading articles without the context, please refer to the video above.
Or, if your musical tastes don’t fall in the direction of Death Cab for Cutie, here’s a link to the lyrics:
The song consists entirely of a first-person narration, told by somebody occupying a hospital waiting room and anticipating the fate of a loved one. Forced into a situation with too much time on their hands, their mind begins to wonder at matters of mortality, the significance we put in those we love, and the general fragility of mankind. Deep, maybe even abstract thinking, but nothing unfamiliar to the world of music. This message has been told before.
“I rationed my breaths as I said to myself that I’d already taken too much today
As each descending peak on the LCD took you a little farther away from me”
From an emotional angle, there’s much to speak on. Anxiety shows face in the little things: a lingering stare on one’s shoes, people pacing, awaiting grave news. Anger comes in the shape of realizing how inconsistent the human mind can be: an introspective observation that our memories are subject to failure and not to be trusted. Sadness then, is represented by the stark description of the hospital itself: “A place where we only say goodbye.”
But none of these emotions are the point of the song. No, they create a sort of juxtaposition against the true meaning, which, for me at least, is intensely sobering. See, “What Sarah Said” is the title of the song, but it’s also what every verse builds up to reveal. It’s the line I did not immediately understand.
“But I’m thinking of what Sarah said
That ‘love is watching someone die’”
This verse bothered me the first couple times I moved through the track. “Love is watching someone die”? Instinctively, I fought this suggestion.
Love isn’t watching someone die. I reasoned with myself. Love doesn’t just roll over like that. It does everything in its power to help. It does not resign to futility. Part of me saw those words with even darker interpretation. What sick person enjoys watching another person pass into death? That’s something psychopaths do.
Even the line which followed did nothing to alleviate my inner conflict, though it did end up being the key to helping me understand.
“So who’s going to watch you die?”
Already somewhat offended, I retaliated against this verse with even more fervor. Now they were making the song about me, when up to this point we’d been focusing on someone else. I didn’t feel any sort of revelation at this statement, just annoyance. I understood the point of the song, but it didn’t make me feel any better.
Okay, okay. It’s a song that helps you contemplate your relationships and their worth in the long run. Am I spending my life with those I love and so on. It’s only natural we would be there for those we love when they passed away.
Staggeringly unremarkable revelation. Like I said, this message has been done before. But I kept listening to “What Sarah Said” and eventually something else began to emerge. The meaning needed to be felt rather than heard.
What I’d missed were those negative emotions from the earlier verses of the song. They helped provide more context than I’d originally perceived. Love, in this circumstance, was not an easy thing. I reworked my thinking, and decided it wasn’t natural for people to be with their loved ones at the time of death, like I’d inexplicably assumed up to this point. It’s unnatural to be at their bedside, because we grow selfish and afraid.
I thought of the people I care the most about, suddenly realizing how utterly terrifying it would be to watch their heart stop beating. Whether they know Christ or not doesn’t negate the loss. Whether they are at peace with themselves doesn’t soften the blow. Death still changes everything.
So it made sense that many people couldn’t bear to be with their loved ones when they died, because those who are still living would be left with a gaping hole where that person once was. The person we love so dearly, they are about to pass on to something we barely understand. They’re about to abandon us to a world still fallen. What are we supposed to do without them? They’re our husband, wife, mother, father, brother, sister, friend. How could they leave us here?
We want to retreat from that thought. Witnessing their death forces us to acknowledge that they aren’t coming back, and endure the sudden onset of loneliness that follows.
So fine. We’re scared to watch someone die. We’re scared of being lonely.
But the one dying is most likely even more afraid. Because even if their soul is at peace, death is still a game-changer. Everything they know is about to switch. Even if it becomes something good, the moments leading up to that are terrifying by nature, because massive change is terrifying.
Nobody wants to go alone. How selfish would we be, to force them into that journey without our company?
Herein lies the conflict. We must swallow our selfishness and sit at their bedside, regarding that LCD monitor, knowing it will soon flatline. (Yes, I understand not every death takes place so formally. I’m keeping things simple.) This is the most important moment of that person’s entire life, and you are now sharing it with them. Because even though your heart is heavy and you know that your world is about to change, you love them too much to let them make that journey all by themselves.
As unrealistic (and perhaps a little dramatic) as it is, I’ve concluded that, if I could, I would willingly be at the bedside of everyone I know when death rings that final bell and calls them into eternity. It’s a time of utmost transparency and intimacy. Their last moment in this world could be our first moment into understanding said world a little better, and the people within it. Perhaps this is easy for me to say, having not experienced the instant of death first-hand before, but it’s still where my convictions have settled.
“Love is watching someone die.“