None of us deserves the cruelty or the grace: how Leonard Cohen helped me heal

Leonard Cohen just released a new album, "You Want It Darker," and it has broken my heart. From one song to the next, I hear the voice of a man who is ready to die, who feels he has finished his work. I don't believe in much, but I do believe in Leonard Cohen. And, I don't mean that glibly. I just really mean it.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in August 2012, I didn't know that I'd be in remission today or that my prognosis would be so good. It was hard to think past that word "cancer." I purchased tickets for Cohen's concert in Chicago, scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving 2012, but it was an act of faith on my part. I had no idea if I'd be alive for that concert.

It seems so melodramatic now, but when I first heard those words, "You have cancer," it profoundly changed my world. I was face to face with my own mortality for the first time in my life.

By November I had been through two cystoscopies, one to remove a tumor and the other to make sure nothing remained, and I'd been through six treatments of BCG, the drug used to treat bladder cancer. BCG took a toll on me. For some folks, it's a piece of cake, for others it's debilitating. I was somewhere in between. But, by November I was thoroughly and completely exhausted. The treatments had wiped me out. Fear and anxiety had also taken their toll. I felt very broken.

When I got to the venue for the concert I felt such relief. If I was going to die, I would die having heard Leonard Cohen live. He is my guru, the eyes through which I can see hope, holiness and reverence. When I hear his words and hear his voice it's possible for me to believe in something bigger than just my little world.

The concert was absolutely everything I needed. He sang all the songs I wanted him to sing. I waited for "Anthem" and he sang it. He sang "Tower of Song" and "Democracy." But when I heard him sing "Come Healing," there in the same room that I was in, the song wrapped itself around my heart, and I wept.

Before 2012 I had never thought about healing and illness. I had never considered the importance of it. But there in that room in November 2012 I understood that healing could come to my spirit as well as to my body. In my depleted state, without energy and without confidence in the future, this song came to offer me an alternative.

There is so much in this song that touches me. From Cohen's "Come Healing" I found healing. Below is a video of him singing the song and below that I've copied the lyrics.

"Come Healing"

O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow

The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The Heart beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above

O let the heavens falter
And let the earth proclaim:
Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Filed under: Cancer, Uncategorized

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