This post is a little longer than usual. It will be like an Avengers movie though, and before you know it, you’ll be sad it’s over. I recently read Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy‘s new book, “Living Forward,” in which they describe how easy it is to drift through life. They teach us how to avoid The Drift by composing a Life Plan. The Paul Simon song Slip Sliding Away tells what can happen if we don’t live deliberately.
Drifting is just existing, coasting along without purpose or direction. Even if we have a desire, dream or purpose, we spend most of our time not working towards our dreams. We spend it drifting wherever life carries us.
The other day when I powered up my little, black MacBook at Starbucks the morning after some crazy north Texas storms, the WiFi wasn’t working. I messed around trying to connect for a few minutes before it occurred to me that I was the first person here (around 5:10am) the morning after the storms and that they probably needed to reset their router.
Then I noticed that I had spent 20 minutes not doing anything productive. Granted, 5:15am isn’t always brightest-eyed, bushiest-tailed time of day. Although I completely lacked any form of bushy tail, I must admit that my head was looking pretty bushy.
For some reason, Paul Simon’s song popped into my head. I let myself drift, and that 20 minutes of my valuable working time had just “slip slided away.”
I’d like to consider it research rather than drift, I just pulled up Slip Sliding Away on Youtube. It turns out Paul didn’t write about Hyatt and Harkavy’s drift, but it was still a valuable lesson about time.
Let me say here that, although I’ve written lots of songs, I would not say that I’m an expert. This is just how I see it, so here goes.
In Love With Sorrow
SSA (Slip Sliding Away) follows a format, of which I’ve always been jealous. I have written a few songs with this format, but I always wanted to write more. SSA begins with the chorus, then alternates with verses that tell a short story and the chorus, which is the moral of the story.
The final verse is usually an explanation of the moral. Where the first two or three verses will describe a particular person’s situation, the last verse usually tells us why the characters in the previous verses do what they do. It tells us why we do what we do and hopefully wakes us up so that we can avoid the same fate as the characters in the first few verses.
Verse 1: Dolores
The first verse is about a man deeply in love with a woman named Dolores. This verse is absolutely brilliant. The man “wore his passion for his woman like a thorny crown.” This is a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. Mocking his “king of the Jews” title, a crown made of thorns was placed on Jesus’ head. Of course, pressing a crown of thorns upon your head hurts. Blood drips down into your eyes and probably burns. It’s just one of the many ways in which Jesus was made to suffer during his crucifixion.
This man in SSA isn’t just suffering, he feels crucified.
He even tells the woman of his suffering, calling her Dolores, which is a Spanish word for sorrow, that his love is so strong, he’s afraid he will disappear. Maybe he’s speaking of his own death. Maybe he’s talking of just losing himself in his love.
And the woman’s name, Sorrow. Absolutely brilliant, Paul!
He was in love with Sorrow.
Here is a man who has found the love of his life! And he can’t enjoy it. He’s so fearful of losing his love that he finds a way to suffer from this love instead of relishing it. He is suffering already and tells her he’s afraid it’s going to get worse.
Paul Simon doesn’t tell us this, but we can assume she eventually either becomes tired of or creeped out by, this guy and dumps him. When all he had to do was enjoy it.
The man was in love with Sorrow. He spent his time suffering instead of living, and now the time is gone. It slipped away.
Verse 2: Regret
Then Paul Simon tells us the story of a woman, who simply, “Became a wife.”
Becoming a wife, or a husband (or any type of friend or partner), is a great thing. In this case, Paul is saying that’s all she did. She was just a wife and didn’t do much else.
Even though the woman has some gratitude. She can find Happiness simply in sunshine. However, she gets to a point in life where she looks back and realizes she wishes she had done more.
At the end (of the verse and probably later in her life), her focus turns to what she didn’t do.
She drifted. Now she’s at the end of the verse and regretting “the things that might have been.”
Absolutely we should be grateful for the daily things like sunshine, loved ones and health, but we should also live purposefully and let ourselves just drift.
If you’re still breathing, you probably still have time. The past has slip slid (slip slided?) away, but you still have some time left. However, at some point, our time will be gone.
In “Living Forward,” Hyatt and Harkavy suggest writing our own eulogy. I have to admit that when I read that part, I thought that I might skip that part. Now, I see why you have to do it.
Writing your eulogy puts you in a frame of mind to Live Forward, with purpose, to a day when you can reminisce about the life you lived.
Not Living Forward sets you adrift, allowing a life otherwise lived to carry you towards a time when you might look back and regret what you didn’t do.
Presence for Now and Presents for Later
This is where I think the new “We are Human Beings, not Human Doings” movement is wrong.
I say this all the time. (I first said it in Happiness is Earned.) Happiness is Presence for Now and Presents for Later.
Mindfulness and gratitude are great! They’re vital for happiness. But if you’re not building something for later, you’re more likely to experience regret.
Don’t let Happiness slip-slide away.
Verse 3: Tell Them How You Feel
In verse three, Paul knows a father who for some reason is separated from his son. I get the feeling that the dad left the family. He doesn’t feel bad about leaving. He probably had a good reason. He feels bad because he can’t tell his son why.
“He came a long way.” The separation put some physical distance between the father and son. The father’s wandering, or calling, took him to another state or another country.
It could also describe an emotional distance. This thing he wants to tell his son, “the reason for the things he’d done,” is a barrier. It may even be a void that separates the father and son.
Either way, the dad wants to cover that distance and reconnect with his son.
The boy is sleeping. He may be content with the life he now has, or just content to be with his father at that moment. Maybe he has accepted the separation from his father. He is at peace, sleeping. Maybe the father is afraid of disturbing the boy’s sleep. Maybe he’s afraid of disturbing the boy’s peace with the situation as he sleeps.
Either way, for some reason the father just can’t bring himself to tell his son how he feels, and he leaves again with something important left unsaid.
It’s Our Fate
The final verse in this type of song (of which I am so jealous) usually goes cosmic or universal.
In “Slip Sliding Away,” Paul Simon absolutely nails it.
We’re not in control. It’s God, mother nature, the universe or fate that determines our course and destination. We just do what we do because it is our fate to do so. Our lives are not in our control.
We “believe we’re gliding down the highway” towards the destination fate intends, but we are wrong.
We are gliding to where we are intended. We sliding away.
We are drifting.
Time is Ours to Use
I always thought the moral to this song was that the closer you get to a goal, “The nearer your destination”, the easier it is to get distracted. It gets easier to slip slide away from your goal.
Now that I’ve paid attention, I know better.
Simon’s “destination” is the end of our life. We all feel that as we get older, time passes more quickly. Getting closer to the end makes drifting seem more significant compared to when we were younger.
Time is not moving faster though. It still ticks at the same pace. It just seems that way to us, because as we near the destination we realize time is running out.
Unlike money and butterbeer—I always bring it back to butterbeer–we can’t make more time.
We can only make the best of the time we have.
Time is not an enemy or a thief. (HT to Tim Burton)
Time is a resource we can use. Time is an asset we can invest or a commodity we can consume and waste.
Time is not money, but it is like money. You may not have as much of others, but you diligently invest what time you have wisely so that you get the best returns.
We can make the best of the time we have…
…if we’re “not slip-slidin’ way…”
…if we vigilantly avoid drift.
I should disclose that I have no Affiliation with Michael Hyatt or Daniel Harkavy. I just like the book!
And comments! I love comments. What do you think of “Slip Sliding Away?”
What is a song that is really meaningful to you? Why?