More Non-Memories of Matt Ryd

"The Lowering," Avett Brothers in 2005

After I saw them in 2010, I have been an obsessive fan of The Avett Brothers. I listened to every song on every album on repeat all day every day. I was (and am) irreparably hooked. I have no regrets.

However, I do a funny thing with music. While I tend to fall in love with bands that write beautiful songs with beautiful lyrics, my brain tends to memorize melodies and hooks first. And sticks with those for a long time before actually taking them time to slow down and listen to the words being presented beyond the chorus.

I was cleaning my friend, L's, house one day. I had music on. That is to say, I had the Avetts on. I was cleaning and organizing her bedroom. Normally, music soothes the savage beast that is my ADD, so I can focus on other tasks like cleaning or data entry. This winter afternoon, my brain went in reverse. I was so focused on organizing, that my brain slowed enough to listen to the lyrics of the song that I had now listened to scores of times while I listening to the Avett catalog over and over.

The song (shown the above YouTube video -- a VERY early performance of theirs that I picked because of its stripped down rawness) is called "The Lowering (A Sad Day in Greenvilletown)" and is found on their album Four Thieves Gone.

The lyrics are haunting and beautiful. They speak of someone who is left wrestling with the fallout of their friend's sickness and where it ultimately takes them. For some reason, that day, I heard every word. I wished so much that my friends could understand this song -- that they could know what it was like to have your "heart be down." What it was like to have "a lonely path to walk." I didn't want them to kiss my head when "death found my bed," but I just wanted them to understand what it was like to "feel in every bone to really see that you're all alone." I kneeled down and started sobbing.

If I had known, your heart was down
That lonely day in Greenvilletown
Then I would have been more concerned
But later on, I truly learned
How it can feel in every bone
To really see that you're all alone

But I'll, I'll kiss your head
When death finds your bed
And you are gone

And if I had seen the way it would be
I'd hush your cries when you came to me
If I could do what I did to you
The same to me, and I would love for you to see

That I sleep with remorse
And regret hangs round my door forevermore

And if I had known the lowering tide
Was lowering with the way you felt inside
If I had known all hope was gone
A broken heart and a broken home
That pierced my lover's past
And carved a lonely path for her to walk

So if ever someone says to you
"Life isn't fair, get used to it"
Then you should say
"Well it might be
If folks like you would let it be"

But I'll, I'll kiss your head
When death becomes my bed
And I am gone.

I present that song to you, because I went to Matt Ryd's memorial yesterday. He was the old soul I wrote about when I started my blog -- my second post, to be precise. He suffered from depression and struggled with an eating disorder and took his life on August 4, 2013. He was an incredibly creative and talented man and was loved by so, so many.

I went despite the fact that in the days after his death, I realized I knew his friends much better than I knew Matt himself. But just like when my friend, Bob, killed himself, I also knew I wanted to be at his memorial in a very visceral way. Even if I wasn't his best friend. Even if I wish I had spent more time getting to know him or getting to be a part of his inner circle. I knew it was important to be there. I knew there was something I was meant to witness. (1)

What I think it was, was something I could have only hoped for, but would have never expected, to be honest. It was his father, talking openly and honestly about the fact that Matt *did* struggle with mental illness, depression and an eating disorder. It was that Matt did share his struggles with people, but that he just didn't necessarily want to share every last detail with everyone, so despite his being open and honest with others, we might not have known how desperately he was fighting the keeping the diseases at bay. That Matt didn't "give up," but he was "overtaken."

It was so refreshing to hear someone speak about mental illness this way. I don't know if Matt's dad has ever struggled with his own demons, or if he truly has come to some sort of understanding by having had open communication with his son, but I heard a man who spoke a clear and honest message. I heard a man who wanted people to know the truth. He let people know that it was no different than someone who had suffered a heart attack or fallen prey to cancer. Ultimately, Matt had a brain disease, and one day, he had a "brain attack."

Yes. Yes, Mr. Ryd. He did. Dear God in Heaven -- which is right here on Earth -- he did. And I know with my finite mind, these are the things I cannot understand. Why Matt, why not me? Not that I wish it were me, but I don't know why I manage to skate on through with my manic-depression and alcoholism in remission, and yet can't seem to get my shit together. And there, there *he* was, with this talent and this energy and this love. SO. MUCH. LOVE.

I choose to believe that I need more time here. I have more lessons to learn here. My soul picked this way and this is how I'm doing it this time around. I'm just doing it long and slow and kind of crazy and passionate and painful like.  And Matt? Matt did it fast and intense and love. He did what he needed to do this time around really quickly. He picked a fast track. He was a bright star who had a "brief, brilliant, miracle dive."(2)

As always, I am a selfish person. Watching those videos and listening to those stories and listening to his music yesterday, I just couldn't help but think what an idiot I am for not connecting with him more. This year, he was asking people about collaborating with him on lyrics, and I excitedly told him I wanted to. I could tell his energy was amazing and I knew we would have been a great team. But nothing came of it; I didn't press the matter.

I know it's ridiculous to mourn someone when you really didn't know them and there are real people going through actual grief who actually interacted with him on a regular basis. But I know there was a lot of great in that guy, and I'm just heartbroken we didn't get a chance to great it up together.

Today, I recorded myself singing the Indigo Girls song "Fare Thee Well," from their album Swamp Ophelia. It's as hack as can be, but I threw it up on YouTube anyway, just to put a piece of music out into the universe for him. It's shitty, but it's mine, Matt. I've got you with me and I'll rendezvous with you again, to be sure.


(1) In both cases, one of the things that was unexpected was a call for me to examine what it means to be a Christian. What it meant to me growing up. What it meant to me in the course of my life. What it means (or doesn't mean) to me now. What it means to me as a theology. As a religion. As a way of life. And what it meant to my respective friends and acquaintances, and what it means to their families and churches in relation to their way to understand their lives and deaths.

I want to say so much more about that. But I won't. It's not the time or the place. Trust that I *will* say more about it, but in a different context and at a different time when it makes more sense. Suffice it to say that for now, I am left to examine what it means to be a Christian -- am I one? If I were to be one, what would that mean? And because I have so many difficult questions to answer, I choose just to hang out in the "spiritual but not religious" camp and know that I have a connection with a "higher power" that I cannot nor choose NOT to define. 

(2) From the Indigo Girls' song, "Fare Thee Well."

Keep up with my head ... type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. You will NEVER get anything else from me (no SPAM, and you can opt out at any time).

Leave a comment