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Lucinda Williams on Compassion

“You do not know what wars are going on down there, where the spirit meets the bone.”

Recently, in witnessing the astounding haste with which people were lashing out against one another, without so much as a moment of pause for understanding, without so much as a basic intention to reflect and respond rather than react, I lamented that the world would be much kinder if everyone believed that everyone else is doing their best, even if they fall short sometimes. Mere hours later, my heart stopped as I heard the first track from Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (iTunes), the altogether spectacular new album by Lucinda Williams.

Titled “Compassion,” the song — a line from which lends the record its name — pins down with devastating precision just what we do to one another, and what we reveal about ourselves, when we deny each other the simple human dignity of kindness. It is nothing short of a masterwork at the intersection of poetry and philosophy from one of the greatest songwriters of our time.

Have compassion for everyone you meet
Even if they don’t want it
What seems conceit
Is always a sign
Always a sign
Always a sign
For those you encounter
Have compassion
Even if they don’t want it
What seems bad manners
Is always a sign
Always a sign
Always a sign

Always a sign
of things no ears have heard
Always a sign
of things no eyes have seen
You do not know
What wars are going on
Down there, where the spirit meets the bone
Down there, where the spirit meets the bone
Down where the spirit meets the bone

For everyone you listen to
Have compassion
Even if they don’t want it
What seems cynicism
Is always a sign
Always a sign
Always a sign
Always a sign

Always a sign
Of things no ears have heard
Always a sign of things no eyes have seen
You do not know
What wars are going on
Down there, where the spirit meets the bone
Down there, where the spirit meets the bone
Down where the spirit meets the bone

Down there, where the spirit meets the bone
Down there, where the spirit meets the bone
Down where the spirit meets the bone

That Williams should possess the poetic form with such mastery should come as no surprise — the daughter of the prolific poet Miller Williams, she grew up reading and writing poetry. Her father’s mentor was none other than Flannery O’Connor, whose house young Lucinda used to visit with her dad and whose Southern Gothic sensibility seems to permeate Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. “Compassion” itself is, in fact, adapted from Miller Williams’s poem by the same title, found in his 1997 collection The Way We Touch: Poems.

In her short memoir, Williams reflects on the interplay between misery and compassion:

Here’s the thing about misery. I had a lot of misery when I was growing up. I have enough misery to last me for the rest of my lifetime. The misery is like a well, and I just dig into the thing and pull it out anytime I want. I have misery and then some. I don’t need to create any more.

[…]

The hardest thing is not looking like you’re pointing the finger and blaming someone…

Complement with Anne Truitt on compassion and our chronic self-righteousness and Mark Twain on what a simple remark by his mother taught him about compassion.


Published November 4, 2014

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/11/04/lucinda-williams-compassion/

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