A few nights ago, I sat across the dining room table from a dear friend whose heart had just been broken. After a romance of a few years, most of which were spent living under the same roof, her boyfriend told her he wasn’t interested, didn’t love her, and moved out – all within 24 hours. There was no other woman, no major issues, no real reason that he gave, he just didn’t feel anything anymore.
As I listened to the story, fresh from her raw heart, I was saddened by it all – the gradual fading and flattening of his own emotions and the increasing tumult of her own, the multiple attempts to renew and reforge their bond, the growing desire to capture something that she already doubted had ever been there, and the disappointed bids for affection that culminated in that final, disinterested shrugging of shoulders and removal of belongings from their shared apartment.
A story of which there are many, a story in which she wasn’t an unrivaled heroine, a story in which he wasn’t an unconscionable villain, a story of love claimed, possessed for a short time and then lost, pursued, questioned, found wanting, left for dead.
A story we have all lived in some form or another, a story where the author is unknown and the ending unwanted.
To her, and to those of us who have suffered of love, the world offers some kind of solace in the warmth and passion of those who have likewise suffered and share their sufferings with the world in the form of art, music, writing. As a now happily married woman, I no longer have occasion to immerse myself in the sorrowful songs that my Polish genes predispose me to love and that shaped so much of my 20s, but there are so many that ring so true and can feed our souls in the midst of desolation.
I don’t think anyone feels and conveys unrequited, passionate love songs with every cell of their being like the French do. It would seem the opposite of their famous joie de vivre – but is it really? Isn’t the capacity to feel daily joy the same capacity that allows for reaching the depths of consuming, fiery heartbreak?
Watch, listen, and feel.
For me, this is the supreme rendition of Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me) (version with English subtitles here). Jacques Brel is not performing nor just singing – he is begging, praying for, entreating his love not to leave him with his whole body and soul, with offers of raindrop pearls from countries where it never rains. The heart of happiness has been killed by ‘whys’ and only the fires of the ancient, dormant volcano can restore it to life again. He lives his suffering and it doesn’t end with the last note, with the last sigh, with the last drop of sweat on his forehead.
Again in French, Lara Fabien transcends language, the words that are the coating for the enraged yet lyrical passions that rise up inside her and boil out over into the audience. Love is killing her, “if it continues, she will die alone with herself, Next to her radio like a stupid kid, Listening to her own voice”. Just the effort of conveying her feelings on the stage nearly kills her emotionally as you can see from the exposed, exhausted, uncertain gestures at the end.
There are clearer, more audible versions of this song, but none with the raw power of this communion initiated the audience, who ‘grabs her by the heart’. Lara’s words echo my friend’s, deprived of even that one final comfort, that of hating the one who had left her, of being justified in raging against him. “Yes, there were other ways of separating, of leaving each other. Some shattered glass may have helped us with this bitter silence.”
Julia Boutros’s song is shorter, in Arabic, but shows some of the same plaintive pain. “That’s it, we’re over, we’re over.” Even “the words have ended”.
There aren’t many adequate words to offer someone who has been disappointed with love, in love, by love, for love. But the almost universal experience of heartbreak can be shared and thus somewhat soothed by the power of music, of a mutual experience of baring of hearts and souls. That is what I hope for my friend and for all those for whom ‘words have ended’ but whose stories will continue.