The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"All the Damage I Have Done"

Blogger Buck at Exile in Portales recently posted a couple of songs by Emmylou Harris and provided his usual excellent commentary along with them.

Second only to my wife Joyce, Ms. Harris is my favorite female singer of all time. She's also written some great material as well and the song I'm posting today, "Prayer in Open D," is one of those pieces she wrote.

"Prayer in Open D" is a reflective song and is included on her not so successful 1993 album, Cowgirl's Prayer. Ms. Harris was 46 in that year and her eight year marriage to English songwriter/producer Paul Kennerley had just ended.

I'm speculating but I imagine this was probably a time of serious reflection for her. I think all of us (at least the non psychopaths!) have those times, those long nights when we tally up all the damage we've done. They seem to occur after a particularly trying experience and, in my opinion, with more frequency as we age. We look back with deep regret and guilt on all the wreckage we've left in our wake.

I don't think of myself as an evil person, or especially bad; as a matter of fact, I think I'm a fairly "nice guy," whatever that means. I've always tried to treat other people fairly and with respect, even those few students or colleagues I encountered over the years that I didn't especially like being around. If they were students, they probably got even more consideration than some of the others. And I'm also not depressive or constantly thinking negative thoughts. But I've had those times of reflection, those long nights when I seem to dwell on the hurts I've caused, the pain to others that's resulted from my bad, and (since I'm being honest), sometimes deliberate choices.

Most of the time, I don't start out the day or night with a plan to indulge in this painful exercise. It just happens. Occasionally, I have an early nightmare that awakens me and triggers the reflection. Other times a random thought will just zip through my brain and the guilt follows the same trajectory right behind the thought.

I don't wallow in this predicament; it's usually gone by the next day and I'm back on track. But in the throes of such remorse, I sometimes pray, as does the singer in this song, for "that highway risin' from my dreams."

What about it? Do you sometimes wander through that "valley of sorrow" where the guilty shadows are the ones you built with your own hands?

Prayer in Open D, Emmylou Harris

There's a valley of sorrow in my soul
Where every night I hear the thunder roll
Like the sound of a distant gun
Over all the damage I have done
And the shadows filling up this land
Are the ones I built with my own hand
There is no comfort from the cold
Of this valley of sorrow in my soul

There's a river of darkness in my blood
And through every vein I feel the flood
I can find no bridge for me to cross
No way to bring back what is lost
Into the night it soon will sweep
Down where all my grievances I keep
But it won't wash away the years
Or one single hard and bitter tear

And the rock of ages I have known
Is a weariness down in the bone
I use to ride it like a rolling stone
Now just carry it alone
There's a highway risin' from my dreams
Deep in the heart I know it gleams
For I have seen it stretching wide
Clear across to the other side

Beyond the river and the flood
And the valley where for so long I've stood
With the rock of ages in my bones
Someday I know it will lead me home.

P.S. If this song depresses you, just scroll up and look at the pic of Emmylou at the top. Since I like that album pic much better than the one on Cowgirl's Prayer, and since looking at it is bound to cheer any guy up, it's the one I chose to use.


  1. Ah, Dan. A most excellent choice of songs and your supporting narrative is equally fine. This one cuts closer than most as I bear a deep and abiding sorrow over what others might dismiss as spilt milk, with an accompanying (and condescending) "get over it, already." Easier said than done. We'll not flog the dead horse except to say I relate. Oh, how I DO relate.

    Thanks for the link!

  2. Dan, It's amazing how those night time brain burners will pop up! Sleep-- forget it until the issue at hand had been mauled to death.
    You are in good company, and certainly not alone.
    Perhaps if we were born with out a conscience, there would be no remorse, and we would sleep like babies!

  3. Buck, Glad you liked the Emmylou selection and thanks for your comments. Putting this stuff aside is, as you say, a lot easier said than done.

  4. Ed, "Mauled to death" is a most appropriate description. Sometimes a list begins to form and I keep adding to it ad infinitum. At other times I zero in on one item. Then I keep coming at it from every angle possible until I am finally exhausted.

  5. She has a wonderful voice and I can completely relate to your commentary. Anyone who does not "look back with deep regret and guilt on all the wreckage we've left in our wake" does not have a conscience.

  6. Dan, I'm going to "amen" Barry.

    Right now I hate your guts! Just kidding, my friend. It would take up more bandwidth than blogger comments allow for me to chronicle all the hurt I've inflicted.

    And, I consider myself to be one of the "good guys," too.

    When I drive past the house I grew up in, and realize that it was Momma & Daddy's "home forever" that one of my decisions caused them to have to sell.

    When I think of Leroy Smith whose beloved grandchild drowned in an irrigation ditch because I failed to be the good friend I should have been.

    And those are just a few of the things that pain me...there are dozens (maybe hundreds) more.

    When I think of all the "I shoulda's," it really, truly does give me nightmares. Well, maybe not "nightmares." But, I often don't sleep well. Gwaaaaaaah! I could write volumes about this.

    Oh heck...I know that life happens, and most of us do what we think is the best thing at the time. So, I do console myself with that.

    But sometimes I don't feel like such a "good guy." Sometimes I feel like a big old phony.

    Maybe that's TMI. And it's likely none of that made sense. But thanks for giving me a spot to unload.

    Excellent post, Dan. That's the kind of stuff we all need to read.

    BTW...Emmylou is also one of my favorites.

  7. Barry and Andy, Thanks to both of you for your comment. And Andy, unload here anytime you want.