For Danielle

A terrible anniversary is coming up.

That first seizure, one year ago, that led to the discovery of a brain tumour.

When a new path appeared before you, unmarked. Doctors were the only guides available, though no one could say for sure what lay ahead.

Since then, you have faced steeper trails than most people do in a lifetime. Telling your children. Moving clear across the world, back home. A diagnosis to induce despair.

But instead of despair, you were defiant, quoting a favourite author: “We can laugh right in the face of hopelessness because we are held right in the arms of God.”

A new song started playing on the radio late last winter. Right away, I thought of you. And, to be honest, myself too – each word ringing true and lodging somewhere deep inside. But it’s more than the lyrics. I played it over and over, while the weak winter sun grew slowly stronger. A hundred times on hot August days and as the leaves turned yellow and red, moved every time by the beauty and power of “We Don’t Know” by the Strumbellas.

It begins with A minor, which is a melancholy kind of chord. A worried chord, but just a small worry at first. The keyboard plays these opening notes, more sound than distinct notes – background noise in the key of Unease. 

A guitar comes in, gently, same minor chord but with the gift of structure, as though saying “here’s what we’re gonna do, folks” – Am, F, G, C. Repeat.

When Simon Ward starts to sing, it’s immediately clear he’s on our side.

I know it gets harder every single day  
And I know my darkness will never go away.

The bass comes in, then another voice alongside Ward. The drums start, as if chivvying us gently along. Setting a pace that feet can follow. These guys seem familiar with the terrain of hopelessness. Ward said he wrote this song while his daughter was seriously ill; he drove every day from the hospital to the studio and back. 

The song carries some of that tension. An enormous energy builds up over the next few lines, leading to a perfectly timed drop – a collective pause before the regular beat begins.

We don’t know the roads that we’re heading down  
We don’t know if we’re lost, that we’ll find a way.  
We don’t know if we leave, will we make it home . . .

Sounds pretty bleak, I know. Yet these deeply anguished lyrics are set to unbelievably catchy, upbeat music. The result is that defiance edges ahead of despair.

It’s hard when you’re living and you don’t feel much  
And you’re down and you’re hurting cause you don’t feel loved.

Then that wonderful chorus again, and I’m shouting along because so many roads are unknown, and here is the bend in another one. Wouldn’t a map be nice? Some signposts now and then? How about a little less heartbreak for a change?

Just then the violin appears, as welcome as a ray of fall sunshine or a cool drink on a hike. The violin solo lasts nearly a minute, adding layer after layer to the melody, ending in a beautiful, frenzied crescendo.

The music video for this song is a parody; the band members – clad as superheroes – fight a guy labelled Lord Doom. Lord Doom defeats each musician one by one, and surely that’s the end. Until a new character called Captain Hope arrives, and ultimately triumphs.

It seems paradoxical. How can we escape a pit of hopelessness?

Clue: with hope. Hope vanquishes doom even after all hope has been lost. That’s why the final lines are triumphant, and carry the first hints of certainty.

We all know, if we’re lost, that we’ll find a way [. . .]
We all know, there’s hope, then we’ll be okay.

I hear God’s voice through this song. He’s speaking to us both. If God can make a donkey his mouthpiece, why not a rebellious hymn by a small band from Lindsay, Ontario?

“Have I not commanded you?” God reminded Joshua.

And you remind me. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Unknown roads included.

  • Angela became Editor of CC in 2009, having learned English grammar in Moscow, research skills in grad school and everything else on the fly. Her vision is for CC to give body to a Reformed perspective by exploring what it means to follow Jesus today. She hopes that the shared stories of God at work in the world inspire each reader to participate in the ongoing task of renewing his creation. Angela lives in Newcastle, Ontario with her husband, Allan, and three children.

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