This is a little different than our normal posts in that it is more personal and not directly related to Africa (although nostalgia for music and movies is part of the ex-pat experience). I wrote this last Friday, May 11, but waited till now to post so that others, including Vivian and my friend mentioned, could have a look.
Today Scottish police found the body of Scott Hutchison, lead singer for the band Frightened Rabbit. Just yesterday, before I saw pleas for finding Hutchison from his band mates and brother, I had put on some old playlists and remembered why they were such a great band. One of the things I most miss here in Malawi is popular culture, and it was soothing to delve back into 2008 and “The Modern Leper,” a story of loss and being found. This is a common theme, loss and, usually, being found. “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” from 2010’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks explores the desire to lose yourself in something larger than large, an abandonment that is both a fleeing of hard realities and entering a kind of baptism. Life through death. At the shoreline it is blurry what is shore and what is ocean.
Today Hutchison stepped over that line and can’t come back. With the grief that his friends and family and fans feel is a twinge that lots in his life led to this kind of death. It is one thing to dance along the line lyrically (really you should listen to the album) another to do so in reality. We only have the past to guide us in grief; we can’t hear to the other side of life, death. Only silence.
Upon hearing the news, I immediately reached out to a close friend who is going through a horrible time. We have listened to Frightened Rabbit together, usually with a glass of scotch in hand. Truthfully, many glasses of scotch. Life is sometimes like that and so is Frightened Rabbit. There are days when I’m sure he wishes he could wade into the ocean and experience a radical baptism, a shedding of the old and enter a new life. I love him a great deal and the thought that I might not be there for him pains me.
I am a minister. I deal in life and death, in baptism, in life through death. It is all nice to sprinkle water on a child, but the full deal—the adult going down under, full immersion with the minister holding the person down—is momentous, even to some extent traumatic. When I baptize a child, I calmly pour water into the font and then cradle the baby, yet my inside voice screams, “RUN! FLEE! When you go in you DIE!” Every baptized Christian knows the line that Hutchison walked because every baptized Christian has crossed it. Some don’t cognitively know it, but this is what baptism is. Nice white middle class niceness can hide the horror in white frilly dresses but artists like Hutchison faced that reality head on.
Head on, and sadly in the end, alone. It isn’t for lack of trying by those who loved him. They aren’t to blame. Still, true baptism requires going under but also having someone else there to pull you up. The minister is, in that moment, an agent of God’s grace, for it is God who brings life out of death, not humans. I called my friend because there have been days when I’ve been on that line, maybe not as far out as Hutchison or my friend, but still out in the waves pounding around me, and he’s called me. He’s saved me, not by saying it is all right but by reaching into the depths and pulling me out. He’s been that minister, that agent of grace, for me.
Do not wander into the deep waters alone. Call out to someone.