I am always changing my mind about redemption. I am conflicted. On the one hand, I appreciate the concept and have to admit that it is a selfish appreciation. My life has been filled with mistakes. Not to get mistakes mixed up with accidents. Some of the mistakes I am talking about were intentional acts of cruelty. Hurting people on purpose or by omission. So I like the idea of redemption. And I guess in my world, I believe that redemption is not a passive act. You can’t just recognize that you did something wrong. You have to change. But then I have this idea that there are some things that you can do for which you can’t seek redemption. There are some things you can do that are unforgivable. These are just conflicting concepts. I have learned to live with both residing in my head at the same time.
Everything is Everything always makes me think about redemption. And then I end up thinking about my mother. My mother who raised 3 boys mostly by herself. Who made the hard choices when they had to be made. It’s very easy to fault her for things that went wrong in my life. Some of it is easily her fault. But the thing that I always get to when I think of laying blame at her feet is the nature of motherhood. In some ways it’s a no-win role. Especially for a single mother. When I think of something my mother did wrong, it’s so easy to call her and talk to her about it. When I think of something my non-existent father did wrong, it’s so easy to call my mother and talk about her role in that. I know that my father wouldn’t give a shit about the subject, and he would end the conversation. So I don’t call him ever. There’s no payoff. The sympathetic ear is my mother’s. That has to suck. She gets to answer for the mistakes of both parents, and he never has to answer for anything.
“I wrote this song for everyone who struggles in their youth.”
Is redemption available to the father that never has to answer to the children he abandoned? The idea makes me furious. Me forgiving him is one thing, and I don’t offer it. He doesn’t really want it anyway. So who cares? But does he deserve a karmic salvation if he privately acknowledges his wrong and makes up for it with generosity or emotional availability to another family? I don’t know the answer. The questions are rhetorical. And even though I talk about that type of redemption making me furious, I really am at peace with the concept more than this statement suggests.
But then I think of my own middle class suffering and compare it to the idea of being second class citizens in your own country, and I think that relatively speaking, my suffering pales in comparison. And true poverty is way beyond that. Combine the two and you have the perspective that I hear Lauryn Hill coming from in Everything is Everything.
“It seems we lose the game before we even start to play.”
And so here we are in the week that a black man was sworn in as president of the United States. And I was thinking about that as I fell asleep. Then I woke up an hour later at like 11pm and I had Everything is Everything in my head. And I thought of being dragged along by a bunch of punks when I was 15 to throw rocks at the KKK march in Dallas. The police could have easily arrested or stopped us and the small groups of black teenagers that we met up with along the way. But they didn’t. The time for this type of expression was over and everyone knew it.
“And the ones on top won’t make it stop. So convinced that they might fall.”
The struggle isn’t over for equality, but it’s nice to reflect on what a monumental leap forward this week has been. It’s so interesting to think that the first serious consideration of a hip hop album for Album of the Year was only 10 years ago. Now there’s a black president. What planet am I living on?
All of the arrangement on this song is so dramatic. So many nods to so many influences. It goes way beyond hip hop, R&B or soul. It’s a song with universal appeal. And by far, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was the most important album of the year it was released. And this song is always the first thing that comes to mind for me about the album. What an inspired production by an amazing group of people. And I remember it being one of the more meaningful Album of the Year Grammy Awards that I can remember being given to anyone. And I think it was Whitney Houston that presented it, and I remember how she hopped around the stage. She was so excited after she read the card. That sticks out in my mind like the thousands of images I have seen this week of black people crying.
There’s a lot of connected concepts, but I really don’t know why redemption seems to be a concept that sticks with this song for me. I guess it’s the slow march of time. I like to believe that things are getting better. That the human race causes itself less suffering than it did 100 years ago. That maybe we can really achieve world peace. That our descendants can redeem our current ignorance. That there is some kind of collective psyhological evolution that we are achieving. That redemption is available to us all because we are all truly trying to do what is best. Maybe it’s too optimistic, but I have only to point at our black president as a reminder that anything is possible. Maybe it’s even possible right now. All it would take is for us to all collectively change our minds. And even that sounded impossible last year.
“After winter, must come spring. Everything is everything.”