I decided to investigate the song, as I was wondering why a hit song would be written about such a topic. I discovered, in my investigation, that the song was based on a Tennyson poem, called "The Lady of Shalott." There is a copy of the poem here, for those of you who are interested. The poem is about a woman held up in a tower in Shalott, forever weaving a tapestry based on the image she sees from her mirror, pointed out the window at the countryside below. She cannot turn around to look directly at her beautiful town of Shalott, or else she will be cursed. So, she remains, staring into the mirror day after day, weaving her tapestry.
That is, until Lancelot.
One day, Sir Lancelot (of Arthurian legend) comes riding through the countryside on horseback, and the Lady of Shalott is forced to turn around to gaze at him. As the curse comes upon her, she decides to leave her tower, and lowers herself out the window. She finds a boat, gets into it, and starts floating down the river toward Sir Lancelot. She dies as the boat carries her downstream, and when Sir Lancelot and his Knights find her peacefully lying in the boat, Sir Lancelot says, "She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace, The Lady of Shalott." Wow - some poem!
Sir Lancelot's dashing appearance onto the scene forced the Lady of Shalott to turn around from her tapestry and mirror, and look directly out at the countryside. Don't you wish that such beauty would appear in your life? A gallantly beautiful horse, a handsome hero. Surely death was a small price to pay for such a truly beautiful moment, after a lifetime of shadows!
My favorite line of the poem comes after the Lady of Shalott saw two lovers in the field below. She says, "I am half sick of shadows" as she muses on them below, living their lives, while she seems forever trapped in the prison cell of her tower, for fear of the curse. It seems to reflect a lot of the fear in our own lives. We get so caught up in weaving our own lives, afraid of being cursed with hurt and failure, afraid of dying to our own desires. We refuse to turn around and actually stare life in the face, to see it on God's terms, as He meant for us to see it. We refuse to take that leap of faith because we know that life means pain, and fully living life means fully dealing with the consequences and emotions and daily battles. Many of us find it much easier to sit weaving away our tapestry in a tall tower, removed from it all.
So, we often find ourselves at the loom of life, weaving away at a tapestry, keeping us distracted from reality. We weave the life that we see in the mirror, letting other people tell us what the countryside of our lives should look like. But what worth does life have if we cannot savor its beauty, stare it in the face? My grandfather had a saying in Italian: better a day as a lion than one hundred days as a lamb. In essence, better the life fully lived than one not lived at all.
So, when I hear the lyrics of the song, "Gather up your tears / keep them in your pocket. / Save them for a time when you're really gonna need them," I think of all the lives that have lived without ever having seen the kind of beauty I have known. It's then that I realize that the tears aren't for death or loss, but for people who never knew love, or beauty. The tears are for the people who never turned around to look directly out the window, who were never so stunned by the beauty of God that they were at a loss for words. The people who remain in that state, captivated by this beauty, don't feel the fear of being cursed. They understand the freedom of living life to the fullest, and the futility of living in a world of mirrors. If the price we pay for beauty is death, then we are well-served to take the risk and pay the price. Otherwise, we die without ever having truly lived.
In the Love of Christ through Mary,