Broken Hallelujah: on losing Leonard Cohen and the Elections

Two painful losses in one week

Goddamn you, world. You just gotta kick a gal when she’s down. Leonard Cohen died this week, one of my favorite poets. This loss coming on the heels of Trump winning the election in the USA, and the Republicans taking both the House and Senate. Seriously, life just isn’t fair sometimes.

What do Brazilians think?

People here in Brazil are shocked at the election results, if you’re curious. They’re sad and angry and confused. Lots of them want to process those emotions with me, want to understand more about what they are seeing on the television.

I am walking through my days with that tremor behind my eyes–the kind that warns you not to blink too hard or the tears will sprout–and a lump just above my heart and just below my throat that just won’t go away.  I can’t unplug from social media. I keep trying to reach out across thousands of miles to lay my hands on my ailing nation.

I’m a lousy ambassador. All that I have been able to offer those poor, concerned souls that want to talk to The American about the elections is a half-smile, a quiet nod to their statements, a half-hearted agreement, and a silence that says: Please, don’t ask me about the elections. Please. I’m not going to be able to hold it together. It hurts to explain how much this went wrong, what it’s going to mean for so many people. Please, just… don’t.

One friend asked straight up why I was suddenly so silent these days. I took a deep breath and said: I’m in pain. I can’t laugh with you at jokes about the election. I’m sorry. I replied, I just can’t. It is difficult to smile, because these are my people; that is my country, the democracy that I care so much about. This isn’t just a normal election,  I tell him. We’ve lost elections before. This is about that uncontrolled man who is sitting in the highest seat of power. This is about a nationlistic fever that has seized my nation. People are going to get hurt. I am watching images of them getting hurt now in his name, and I’m really afraid that it’s going to get worse. My country and our democracy might not recover for a long, long time. This isn’t just any old election. Forgive me, my friend, I can’t talk right now. He nodded his head in silence; he understood.

Did you know Hallelujah is famous in Brazil?

Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is arguably his most famous song in Brazil. Lots of religious musicians sing a Brazilian version it in Portuguese that always makes me chuckle because the original English version of Hallelujah is racy and beautifully sad. They have no idea what they’re singing, or not singing. The original song isn’t about traditional religion at all–just the opposite. Regardless, it’s one of my favorites. It leaves me gasping for air every time.

I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
But love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Somehow it is fitting that it is echoing in my mind this week.

RIP Leonard.

(I drafted this last night. Then after I went to bed Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon played this version. Of course no one’s ever gonna believe that now. But yeah, I hear you sister.)

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