September 7, 2011

On Tragedy and Remembrance

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With the beginning of your college years, a scary realization occurs: we have reached the age where things are beginning to happen. Not just happening in the sense that we are forced to live on our own, hash out our life goals and prepare for our entrance into the ‘real world,’ but that things that are out of our control are beginning to happen to us. Gone are the idyllic days of high school when we thought we could do anything and suffer no consequence — we are not the invincible creatures we once thought we were.

Recently, a good friend of mine passed away. Although he was not a member of the Cornell community, Jordan met several of my Cornell friends when they visited me in Chicago, and it was these friends who were tasked with consoling me in the wake of his death. Jordan was a remarkable person in that he truly lived life to the fullest — never without his gigantic, slightly crazed smile and the boisterous and often absurd catchphrases he would yell, without warning, whenever the moment struck him. Jordan’s passing brought full circle for me something that I had began to realize since coming to Cornell — the youth are not untouchable. We too are not immune to death, illness and tragedy.

Tragedy is a phenomenon the Class of 2013 has known all too well since beginning our time on the hill. Anyone who was on campus during spring semester of 2010 can recall the deep sense of sadness, loss and fear that permeated Cornell after the string of back-to-back suicides in the gorges took place. Then, the following year, Cornell again was shaken by tragedy — the death of George Desdunes and the media frenzy and lawsuit that followed. It seems summer does not even allow for a painless interlude, as several Cornellians fell victim to the forces of nature just a few months ago, drowning in the gorges while enjoying what were supposed to be relaxing days with friends.

But what remains? A slew of fences looming above every bridge, calls for improved gorge safety and a Greek community struggling to hold on to the institution they hold so dear. In writing this article, I was ashamed to find that I couldn’t even remember a single name of the three troubled souls who jumped into the gorges my freshman year — not even the name of the bright and kind boy who sat across from me in section. Tragedy, it seems, strikes Cornell with an all-consuming power, and then is gone as fast as it came. Caught up in the endless bombardment of papers, prelims and deadlines that make up every Cornell student’s life, we have unknowingly been conditioned to mourn and move on.

Tragedy may be unavoidable, but forgetting is not.

Remembrance often is not easy — it is much easier to become preoccupied with picking sides in the tug-of-war between the administration and the Greeks, or to make lighthearted jokes about how you’re so stressed you could jump into a gorge. We are only human, and cannot help but become caught up in our own lives. But remembering those that were lost is one thing we can all do, without fail. To pause the powerful stream of assignments and obligations, and, if only for the length of a song, give remembrance its due time. So, here it is, the Top 5 for this week, five great songs that will help you remember.

1. Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton

This may be a fairly unoriginal choice, but Clapton wrote “Tears in Heaven” in coping with the death of his 4-year-old son, and that will never stop being beautiful. Personal, touching, and, for an artist who has been hailed by many as the greatest guitarist of all time, incredibly simple, Clapton forever immortalized his son Conor’s memory in this heartrending ballad.

2. I Shall Be Released – Bob Dylan

Written by Dylan for The Band, this song is most famous for when it was performed during The Band’s farewell tour with an epic sing-a-long, which included Dylan along with the likes of Van Morrison, Ronnie Wood, Neil Young and many illustrious others. I have to grant seniority to the songwriter himself though, and Dylan’s stripped down rendering is inspiring in its own right. His imperfect drawl and sing-talk way of performing has the ability to reassure any listener that redemption is near, and that they too shall be released.

3. Pink Moon – Nick Drake

“Pink Moon,” off of Drake’s third and final album of the same name, is a perfect blend of sweet, delicate melodies and Drake’s visceral songsmanship. Although the lyrics are comprised almost entirely of a handful of words, Drake manages to create a song that is at times haunting, joyful, and compelling. The calm resignation in Drake’s voice reveals the vulnerability beneath, resulting in a breathtaking 2 minutes that seem to beckon the listener to find their own meaning between the chords.

4. Do You Realize? – Flaming Lips

Though this song may at first seem like an ode from a doting lover, Wayne Coyne wrote it while helping fellow band member Steven Drozd kick his heroin addiction, and with the recent death of his father in mind. Set to a melodic soundscape of synthesizers and guitars, “Do You Realize” is a moving tribute to the precariousness of life, and a reminder to never take for granted the people around us.

5. Une Annee Sans Lumiere – Arcade Fire

“Une Annee San Lumiere” is off of Arcade Fire’s debut album Funeral, aptly titled in order to commemorate the deaths of several relatives of band members during its recording. Translated from French, it means “A Year Without Light”, hinting that below the gentle harmony and Win Butler’s striking voice there are darker forces at play. With a minute left in the song the tempo quickens, a chorus of “hey” adds to the revelry, and Arcade Fire proves once again that grieving and celebration can go hand in hand.

Original Author: Sarah Angell