A song I love by Mat Kearney came on while I was running yesterday, and one line was stuck in my head all day:
I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees.
The song was referring to a phone call bearing bad news. And I thought of the phone ringing in the middle of the night when Matt’s dad got his heart. I thought of while my mother’s best friend and her mother were dying, and about how every time the phone rang I would startle, and pick it up with icy dread in my stomach. To this day when the phone rings after about 8:30 in the evening my heart lurches, and I assume someone is in the hospital. One call. One moment. One fleeting choice. On our knees. Or worse.
I thought more broadly of the decisions, choices, and coincidences that shape our lives irrevocably. As Dani Shapiro says in Devotion, “I had tuned left instead of right; had taken (or not taken) the trip, the flight, the challenge, the chance” – each small choice we make takes us to where we are. A job interview taken, a second drink agreed to, a leaning into a kiss rather than away, walking a different way home. If you imagine our lives as a line etched into space, moving backwards and forward, going through forks in the road, there are some spots that would be luminous in the retelling, glowing with the importance that we did not know they had until after the fact.
Some of the big forks in the road announce themselves, with neon lettering and loud honking sirens: who to marry? where to go to school? what job to take? But I believe that many of the choices that actually create our lives, and, perhaps more importantly, who we are, are small, surprisingly imperceptible in the moment. And then, over years, the ramifications of each choice make themselves known. Our lives echo with the decisions we make, with the steps we take, forward, back, left right.
It is the phone calls in the night and the emails out of the blue that are on my mind today, the innumerable small snowflakes of life’s decisions that build into the immovable, permanent icebergs of our lives. I’ve written before about this, more focused on the the internal experience of these shifts, of this gradual contouring of who we are.
” I am thinking about my personal mythology, about the moments of my life that shaped who I am today. Some of them are big, I know, like the births of my children, but many of them are small. In fact I think it is true, this notion of destiny taking shape in silence. Often the true shifts that change our direction irrevocably happen invisibly to others. This is the terrible, wonderful privacy of this life: nobody can know our internal terrain well enough to walk it without guidance.”
It occurs to me now that being brought to our knees need not always be a tragic thing: one could spin Mat’s lyric around to say that one small phone call, one event we may not have controlled, could bring us to a position of communion and worship with this world. I imagine he meant the more obvious and negative meaning, but I like my interpretation, which just says to me that both good and bad changes are always a single moment away. The veil of our glorious, ordinary lives can be pierced, for good or for bad, in every second. Which just brings me back to the same persistent theme that tugs at me every time I sit down to write: what we have is this. Right now. And only this.
19 thoughts on “One phone call from our knees”
this is beautiful. thank you.
“The veil of our glorious, ordinary lives can be pierced, for good or for bad, in every second. Which just brings me back to the same persistent theme that tugs at me every time I sit down to write: what we have is this. Right now. And only this.”
Every day, I struggle with the concept of living in this very moment. It is such a challenge. Is this not, you think, the highest form of self-actualization?
Like you, my stomach drops to the floor when the phone rings after 8:30. Often, it just means that my husband is needed at work, but I still can’t help but feel this *thunk* when the phone rings.
I like your spin on the song lyric–it’s always a challenge for me to see the brighter side of things. I need to learn that skill.
This is beautiful.
And I like your interpretation better.
Wow Lindsey – this is powerful. And I’m not sure that meaning isn’t sort of implicit in the song. On our knees, aware of the power of the individual moment, our need for connectedness. Even when the moment hurts, the moment is all we have. Love this post.
I have slowly gotten over the calls that come in between 8:30pm and midnight. It is the phone calls or text messages after midnight that make me pause.
Wonderful writing, Lindsey!
Lindsey — After reading your title I came here prepared to lay down in the comments the exact interpretation you arrived at. So glad you got there first! There’s no reason to dwell on worst-case scenarios. Indeed, there’s every reason not to.
I needed this positive interpretation. Today I am immobilized, completely bogged down with this realization: “many of the choices that actually create our lives, and, perhaps more importantly, who we are, are small, surprisingly imperceptible in the moment. And then, over years, the ramifications of each choice make themselves known.” I am feeling stuck today. An acute and stabbing longing to go back and try things differently. Too many choices or not enough, but only one chance we have. Or so it seems.
Here I am reminded that I have no clue what the future holds. “The veil of our glorious, ordinary lives can be pierced, for good or for bad, in every second.”
I’m crying. xo
I love that song, but I’ve always hated that line because all I can think of is getting that dreaded phone call. I can’t bring myself to imagine the phone call that would bring me to my knees. Thanks for your revised interpretation. I like it much better.
I *love* this post (and I love your blog). My favorite line is “No one can know our internal terrain well enough to walk it without guidance.” So beautiful.
PS I just started reading Dani Shapiro’s DEVOTION (thank you for the recommendation).
you have this habit of leaving me wordless… I know this. we have this – and eternal in Him. talk about circumspection.
Beautiful writing again! I love your take on the lyrics better. Those small things can be so important. I think of those often and I’m finally learning to enjoy those moments right here, right now!!
I like your version too – accepting every morsel of life experience as an opportunity to truly commune with life. How else will we gain experience, shed fear, conquer grief unless we life through it, existing in the anguish, the glory the messiness of humanity? Yes, I do like your version best. Beautiful essay today, thanks!
I just love your positive spin on these lyrics. You are so right, life altering changes (bad AND good) are only a breath away. I prefer to imagine that when the phone rings at the dreaded early or late hour, it’s for only good news (although I just might kill the person delivering the news at that hour!)
Beautiful post Lindsey and just what I needed tonight. xo
That whole section in the middle about following our life back sent me reeling. Just thinking about it all is just about enough to give me rollercoaster-stomach.
(and you really do write so beautifully, lindsey.)
You’ve written beautifully, again, Lindsey, of a complicated subject, wrought with all the anxiety and anticipation we humans can muster. This is the moment when we are the sum of our past history, and yet we can make this moment exactly what it needs to be for us. The positive spin on the lyrics included.
Hugs and butterflies,
Perhaps it is those moments on our knees that make possible the flight of the human spirit. Between us all, we are always, somewhere, elated and devastated. It can be so hard, though, to trust and feel that when the world drops away beneath us.
“Glowing with the importance that we did not know they had until after the fact.” I think about these moments a lot, have actually been considering writing a post of my own where I explore the whole idea of how I think things would be different if I had made different choices along the way. The what if’s. They can be powerful, if only because we don’t know them. That’s what’s so alluring about the other choice, the wonder of where that would have taken us. They say we learn from our choices, and I suppose that we do, but oh how wonderful it would be to really know if they were the right choices.
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