How Does Your Light Shine?
When your cousin died your family asked you to pick a song to play at her funeral.

She introduced you to music — gave you mixtapes when tapes were all there was and not a trendy thing at Urban Outfitters. Because of her, an eight-year-old you listened to things like “The Sandbox” by King Missile and “The Girl From Ipanema” by João Gilberto. She’d leave notes inside the tape cases like: Find your song and carry it with you. At eight, you took her notes like scripture, always walked around with a tape in your Walkman. Now, you see that the Song has to do with the heart, maybe the soul.

So when you get the request from your family, your mind goes to the last mixtape she gave you. This time it was a CD, not a tape because, shit, things change and we change with it. The first song on that CD is all you hear.

Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain
with the rains of Shambala

Because all you think of are her troubles and pain. And how if we believe in the idea of Shambala, we’re all lucky enough to escape our troubles and pains. Toward the end, your cousin had a lot of pain. Cancer that radiated from the center of her body and spread like acid. Cancer that went away and came back repeatedly until it stayed and she slipped into chemical-induced sleep, her last moments crossfading into whatever’s next.

In life, she carried a wild wind. Not chaos — it was elemental energy. She was wholly herself, not a compilation of others. She rocked armpit hair before it was on the cover of fashion magazines. She chased you, armpit first, around the house and you ran screaming because you were terrified of the hair. She reminded you that an adult could always be a child if they carried a song in their heart.

How does your light shine,
in the halls of Shambala

No one in your family would disagree if you say your cousin had a light that shined brighter than anyone. She believed in blind hope and that goodness lies at the heart of every soul. She loved to spread love. She believed in the balance of moments, that without bad there couldn’t be good. Fixing a flat tire gave her a nice workout. A failed relationship gave her the opportunity to speak to herself about what was really important.

But you can’t stop asking: what did cancer give her other than cancer? You can’t take away the moments where she was able to tell us all just how much she loved us. But her death left a hole. It left a son and daughter not yet double digits in age without a mother. A man without the love of his life. Parents without their child.

You don’t see the balance.

The last time you were with her was in Austin, TX. Her, your sister, and your two other cousins (all women) went to a concert at The Mohawk — Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Your cousin paid for everyone’s ticket. At that time, you were a dirtbag. All you listened to was heavy metal and punk. You didn’t give a shit about anyone but yourself — and you still fight those urges. So when Ariel Pink walked out and did his David Bowie/Nick Cave/Kurt Cobain routine, which your cousin adored, you couldn’t stand it.

You left heard and known. You told her how much you hated it, that it was a waste of time. You could see the hurt on her face, but you didn’t care. She wanted to show you something she really liked because she’s the one who gave you music and wanted to give you more.

You didn’t want it. That was the last time you were with someone who meant more to you than she ever knew and you spent it breaking her heart.

Wash away my sorrow, wash away my shame
with the rains of Shambala

So when your family asks you for her funeral song, you don’t hesitate. You say: “Shambala” by Three Dog Night. At first they laugh, say it’s an interesting choice. After the funeral — that you couldn’t attend because you were too broke to drive the six hours to Louisiana — you learned that everyone thought it was the right amount of uplift, maybe even what your cousin would’ve wanted.

You hope that the song was an acknowledgement, a way to amend what was damaged. That you recognized the importance she had on you. You wanted them to play that song to tell her that you heard her. That you always listened.

Lately you’ve been hearing the song out in the world. You’ve had to make choices. Self-doubt has racked through you like a cancer. You have trouble sleeping, worrying if you’ve made the right choice, if this is what you are supposed to do. And every time you’re in the worst of it, you hear it. A store. In the car. It’s there.

How does your light shine,
in the halls of Shambala

Like she’s there, shining a light on the things you do. That you will be okay. That there will be a balance.

Everytime you hear it, you cry.

“Shambala” by Three Dog Night. A bubble gum pop song from the Seventies that plays now exclusively in grocery stores and dentist offices. But the words, paired with the last years of your cousin’s life, mean something. Maybe to her the song wasn’t about anything other than a place she’ll go while she waits for us to get there.

on the road to Shambala

You keep thinking about her because there’s regret. It’s unfinished — an unresolved melody. You hope that there is a place after this where you can sit and talk. Where she can show you all the music she’s been listening to. Until then, you’re trying to have faith in the balance of moments.



Photo used under CC.