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The King Lear Conversation

Thank you, Belle, for your inviation to dive into a Redroom conversation about King Lear. Here's a response, though I wrote it 26 years ago, when I lived in a small town in Mendocino county (California) and wrote a column for a community paper. A tragic car accident in town that was the subject of this particular column. "King Lear" (and Bob Dylan) helped me -- and many in the community, based on what I heard from readers -- settle with the sadness. Here's the piece, from May 1982 (in the Coast Peddler).

Our community is in pain this week, pain caused by a strange accident that occurred when a car parked in front of the elementary school rolled down the hill and into town. As I write now, two little girls are in critical condition. I call the accident strange because there really is no one to blame. There were careless over-sights, but these were small mistakes most of us have made a number of times. Any one of us could have played any of the parts in this tragedy – the car involved could have been ours, we could have been the friend who borrowed the car, it could have been our child walking home from school.

The song that has been running constantly through my head in these days since the accident is “Percy’s Song” by Bob Dylan.
Bad news, bad news, comes to me where I sleep
turn, turn, turn again
Sayin’ one of your friends is in trouble deep
turn, turn to the rain and the wind.

The song tells the story of Dylan, learning about a friend who has been sentenced to prison because the car he was driving crashed, killing four people. Dylan goes to see the judge who tried the case to plead for his friend.
But I know him as good as I know myself
turn, turn, turn again
An’ he wouldn’t harm a life that belonged to someone else
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind.

Dylan ends his plea:
But he ain’t no criminal, and his crime it is none
Turn, turn, turn again
What happened to him could happen to anyone
Turn, turn to the rain and the wind.

The judge will not listen to this “what happened to him could happen to anyone.” In his world, someone must be held accountable, there must be someone to blame. The judge will not listen; he banishes Dylan from his chambers.
I played my guitar through the night to the day
Turn, turn, turn again
An’ the only tune my guitar could play was
Oh, the cruel rain and the wind.

This song, with its simple, mournful tune, says what I hear everyone around town saying now: What happened here could have happened to anyone.

In Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” when Lear finally gives in to madness and begins to see, the old King rages:
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!
Rage, blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout

Lear will not take shelter from the storm. His pain, the cruelty of his fate, opens him for the first time to what it means to be a human being. And the Fool teases Lear softly, in the song that must have been the seed for Dylan’s:
He that has and a little tiny wit
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain
Must make content with his fortunes fit.
For the rain it raineth every day.

No matter what realms any of us command, no matter what the control we think we have, no matter how much we try to do right, we are, all of us, still tossed about by the wind and the rain. The best we can do at times like these when we feel the storm so close against our bones, is to reach out to each other. It is not a time for blame, but a time for feeling the fragility of what it means to live a human life. It is a time for extending ourselves fully to each of the people involved in this particular tragedy, knowing that any of us them could be us.

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Fool's Song

A variation, or at least a song with some of the same lines closes 12th Night as well. I love those bits

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yes

I love those bits, too, -- their music and what music and meaning convey about chance, fate, life.