Thus far, the song of the summer has been Brandi Carlile’s Janis-Joplin-style-bellow of “Hallelujah.” Considering that Aquarius is one of the best singers I’ve ever heard, I play it repeatedly in the truck in hopes that he will get the message and sing along. A few weeks ago, my plan started showing results: Aquarius told me he liked the tune. [Insert conniving laugh here.] Now, I’m proud to say that I’ve played the song so many times that it’s come close to hypnotizing my traveling buddy, making it so he only requests one song when we are on our way to the field: Hallelujah.
A few days ago we had a discussion about what the lyrics to this song could mean. In the midst of talking about some strange woman showering on a rooftop and a king getting his hair chopped off, the lyrics to the song also mention something about the composer’s search for God. In the end, the words discuss the impossibility of the “hallelujah” being found in light, the “halellujah” being a broken kind of thing all along. Now, such rambling baffles me…as it probably should baffle us all. The original songwriter, Leonard Cohen, wasn’t exactly known for living a life where he took the principles of D.A.R.E. too seriously. In all actuality, though, who knows what that song means. It’s beautiful, but inconclusive and elusive at best.
However, such descriptions don’t stop the song from continually playing on repeat in my head. A week ago, Carlile’s rendition was lodged somewhere between my cerebral cortex and medulla oblongata as I made the trek with my coworkers into the field to visit an HIV/AIDS patient receiving home-based care (HBC) from one of IRD’s partnering organizations. Bedridden and weighing 90 pounds at a heavy estimate, the patient was a former HBC volunteer who had given others care and support in his former life. Since January, however, the man had been violently sick himself, receiving some of the hardest blows and punches this disease often throws.
In typical Mozambican fashion, we were welcomed into the two-room home where the patient and 10 of his family members reside. On a straw mat padded with blankets and sheets boasting Looney Toons characters, this man was curled up in a corner, a worn book lying by his side. His friends and fellow HBC volunteers followed us inside the door, kneeled and squatted around the man on the ground, and provided some of the kindest faces I’ve ever looked upon. For 30 minutes, our group talked with our host and volunteers. We learned that he and his uncle were war survivors who had come from the north to the interior of this southern province to build a better life for their family, planting roots for both crop production and future generations. He told us of his love for his new community, his gratitude to the HBC volunteers who surrounded him, and his hope that the worst days of his suffering were behind him. The tattered book at his bedside, he revealed, was his HBC manual. He spent most of his waking moments re-reading the tips that will make him a better volunteer for others when he gets back on his feet.
Towards the end of the visit, there was a look exchanged between the volunteers and their patient that jolted anyone that witnessed it. The look was at once so intimate, so unsexual yet enormously passionate, and so fused with vulnerability that it took you by surprise. In fact, it made a person feel uncomfortable…uncomfortable because up until that point—that one particular moment in time—it had been shamefully difficult to understand what it meant to give yourself to someone, to know what real sharing could be, and to understand where searching for God first begins.
I’m still clueless what the song “Hallelujah” actually means. And quite honestly, I’m really trying hard to avoid overdramatizing the whole experience I just described. However, I can’t help but think that what I had the pleasure of witnessing in that two-room-concrete-block-of-a-house had something to do with what the song talks about. In my mind, Hallelujah is found somewhere in the midst of what happened in Mozambique.