The Man in White

The afternoon was mild and warm and the breeze was soothing. Florence had been downgraded to a tropical storm and the light rain that sprinkled our corner of the state had yet to begin and the children and I were downtown for no reason other than it was more interesting than being at home.

I’d decided that given the chance of rain, rather than a wilderness day (admittedly more nourishing for the soul) it would be a city day, with some pizza and pavement pounding. After some slices we sauntered over to the Plaza where the wind blew water all over the place from the horizontal concrete fountains and the kids quickly found a playmate in a little girl called Amelia.

It was a medium gray kind of day, neutral, not taking anyone’s side, nothing outstanding in the way of good or bad occurrences. As a day it was a blank slate upon which one could carve a picture of whatever one might choose. The kids enjoyed themselves and I enjoyed watching them as they played with little behavioral correction, exuberant and energetic but not boisterous. It was the kind of day you might say was routine, if you didn’t know better.

Joan of Arc engraving by Albert Lynch (1903)

Joan of Arc engraving by Albert Lynch (1903)

Observing passersby and observing myself observing them, two songs came to mind, one compassionate, the other condemnatory, both from Leonard Cohen’s 1971 album Songs of Love and Hate: “Joan of Arc” and “Diamonds in the Mine.”

“Joan of Arc” moves me. The thing about Leonard Cohen’s songwriting and delivery that resonates with me is a deep empathy he creates between character and listener. It’s a singular power in a songwriter, a man who seems to have possessed a rare ability to create harmony between souls. Perhaps Mr. Cohen was a more highly evolved soul than most of the rest of us.

My own dearth of compassion is a pernicious habit of mind that begs correction. Too often I see individuals through the eyes of someone like the narrator of “Diamonds in the Mine.”

The truth about oneself is often painful. But isn’t admitting that you have a problem the first step in solving it?

Diamonds in the Mine

The woman in blue, she's asking for revenge, 
the man in white -- that's you -- says he has no friends. 
The river is swollen up with rusty cans 
and the trees are burning in your promised land. 
And there are no letters in the mailbox, 
and there are no grapes upon the vine, 
and there are no chocolates in the boxes anymore, 
and there are no diamonds in the mine. 

Well, you tell me that your lover has a broken limb, 
you say you're kind of restless now and it's on account of him. 
Well, I saw the man in question, it was just the other night, 
he was eating up a lady where the lions and Christians fight. 
And there are no letters in the mailbox 
and there are no grapes upon the vine, 
and there are no chocolates in the boxes anymore, 
and there are no diamonds in the mine. 

Ah, there is no comfort in the covens of the witch, 
some very clever doctor went and sterilized the bitch, 
and the only man of energy, yes the revolution's pride, 
he trained a hundred women just to kill an unborn child. 
And there are no letters in the mailbox, 
oh no, there are no, no grapes upon your vine, 
and there are, there are no chocolates in your boxes anymore, 
and there are no diamonds in your mine. 
And there are no letters in the mailbox, 
and there are no grapes upon the vine, 
and there are no chocolates in your boxes anymore, 
and there are no diamonds in your mine.

By Leonard Cohen