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VCV: The National – “About Today”

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The laws of science and physics tell us two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time and that one object can't be in two different places at the same time.  The laws and power of music make me question that.

I saw The National in Knoxville at the Big Ears Festival on Sunday.  11 and I bought tickets for the show months ago, eager to see them and not wanting to take any chances on this being their lone stop through the South.  I stood, mesmerized, for most of the 20-song performance as I connected with familiar and unfamiliar songs being presented.  All 11 songs from the upcoming album High Violet were performed, interspersed with five songs from Boxer and three from Alligator

There was one song that didn't come from those three albums.  I thought I knew it well but it turns out I didn't know it at all.  Matt Berniger has never written a song for me and he's no more likely to than he is any of the other 6 billion people on earth he never has and never will meet.  It's just that- well, he did and neither of us knew it until Sunday night.

My five-year old niece — my brother's daughter — was riding in a car with her aunt (my youngest sister).  They were on their way to see Disney Playhouse when they were struck by another car.  My sister sustained a couple bruises.  My niece still hasn't woken up.  I wasn't allowed into the Pediatrics ICU to sit with her until Saturday night.

Tonight you just close your eyes
and I just watch you
slip away

How close am I to losing you

I stood by her bed, watching her struggle and strain.  She wasn't conscious but she murmured and moaned, battling with IV and breathing tubes and a neck brace.  I watched over her as she fought against the invisible barrier separating her from us.  I'm not sure how I did it, either.  I'm not bragging when I tell you I'm not the heartiest of stock.  I wanted to fall to the floor and rock myself back and forth until I was reduced to a puddle of liquidy nothing.  Somehow I managed to maintain my feet and balance.  Somehow I managed to form words.  I tried to reassure her, telling her in my quietest, lowest register how proud I was of her and how well she was doing, what a big girl she is, and reassuring us both she'd be fine.  I left her room feeling like a ghost.  I don't remember the rest of Saturday.

I struggled with the decision to go to the concert on Sunday.  I wanted to but didn't feel I should or that I had a right to enjoy myself while my niece lay in limbo.  I didn't feel entitled to a moment while my brother and his wife sat vigil with their child and my sister silently brutalized herself for something over which she never had any control.  What kind of bastard goes to a concert under those circumstances?


In my defense, I was reluctant.  My wife and family encouraged me to, assuring me there was nothing wrong with me taking a brief respite.  She'd either be awake when I returned or this would all be there.

Today you were far away
and I didn't ask you why
What could I say
I was far away

I was far away and so was she.  We were far apart in her hospital room on Saturday.  I was mostly in Knoxville and she was mostly in Huntsville on Sunday.  I turned off my phone and tried to immerse myself in the music.  I would sporadically suppress an urge to turn on the phone hoping for news.  The urge would burn bright and then fade away, doused by resignation.  Why was I far away?  Because I couldn't do anything less in Knoxville than what I'd done in Huntsville. 

Well can I ask you about today

Matt Berninger has still never written a song about me but as The National performed "About Today," a room filled with hundreds of people began to spin until there was no one but me.  Padma Newsome's mournful violin and Berninger's quiet meditation pierced skin and bone leaving me alone and naked.  I shielded my eyes, trying to recreate distance that seemed to instantly evaporate.

Hey, are you awake
Yeah I'm right here

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About Josh Hathaway

  • Very poignant. I hope she pulls through.

  • Jordan Richardson

    What a wonderful piece of work, Josh, and what a great way to express how you feel. Thoughts and prayers for your niece and your whole family.

  • Wow, Josh, I hope everything works out okay. That’s pretty much my nightmare. Whenever the kids are out of my earshot, I have at least a little worry that something has happened. I luckily have never experienced anything like it but your excellent writing puts me right there with you. As with the others, my thoughts are with you and your family.

  • So sorry about your niece, Josh. In my thoughts and prayers.

    Excellent piece of writing too. If not your best work, its very close.

  • if we are having a reunion, I’ll grab a couple of beers later this evening and comment on a hockey game

  • It’s like an episode of the B-Sides Concept Album around here today! Thank you, boys. Thank you for the kind words, the encouragement, and prayers.

  • amazing that such circumstances can focus a person so…though i’m sort of astounded that you got anything out of the show. i get in those situations go into shutdown mode.

    our thoughts are with you & your family.

  • eloquent piece, my e-friend.

    looks like you were meant to go to experience that song and that moment. or not. some times it all makes sense; some times none of it does. and some times all at the same time, which just adds to the confusion as the line between chaos and order are blurred.

    i was just in the hospital over the weekend for a couple of days with my mother. nothing near as serious as your niece, just a few screws installed to fix a broken hip. they can be off-putting places as they bring an unwelcome view of our frailty and mortality into sharp focus. but it’s a great and stark reminder about what’s important to appreciate what you have.

    best wishes to you and your family. it’s great that you are all there for each other. your absence here and other places will be noted and missed.

  • 11

    I continue to keep your niece in my prayers.
    No words can describe what happens when life and music intersect, yet somehow Hathaway does it.

    What an incredible show.