During the summer of 2017 – a time of significant change in my life – including the rupture of my marriage, an upcoming milestone birthday, and a relocation to a quiet rural place with dark skies and an abundance of fauna and flora — I literally heard myself: I had unconsciously begun a meditative practice of singing or humming verses and melodies of sorrow, wonder, gratitude — or of the mundane. They were autonomic and presumably original, lamentations.
Serendipitously, I retroactively encountered a May 2017 piece published in Yes! magazine about the revival and history of “lament singing” in Finland. To find that I was actually participating in a Finnish tradition that I had never experienced or heard of — but that was somehow still in me — in some cellular, trans-generational or ancestral place — felt like a bridge to my lineage — to all my unknown women-kin.
The lyrics and tunes occurred spontaneously over several months, and I often automatically repeated the same one over and over while working, cleaning, cooking, gardening, walking or driving. I sung or hummed them mostly while alone, but sometimes they would emerge aloud in public places — I didn’t realize that I was in song or know how long I had been doing it.
People who laugh, cry, sing and talk to themselves aloud in the street are not “crazy” — we are comforting, raging, celebrating, mocking and mourning ourselves, our lives, our experiences and the world.
The lamentations seem similar to freestyle rap or improvised jazz — where if the flow is interrupted or one becomes too self-aware or self-conscious, the rhyme, run, beat, cadence or magic can be lost.
I’ve long wished that I had recorded myself singing or humming these songs when they were so reliable and prolific for me — I treasure those impromptu lyrics and melodies that buoyed me during that hard time — even though I can’t remember them.
My songs, which sung themselves out — over hours, days or weeks are now mostly gone — but occasionally one of them will revisit me — like a surprise visit from a long-lost, dear friend. Recently, I had the epiphany that maybe these lamentations intentionally – as in metaphysically – resist being recorded or remembered — that maybe they’re meant to be ephemeral and recalled epigenetically only as the authentic and urgent need to soothe, praise, thank, confess or cope arises.
“In Finland, the ancient musical tradition known as lament singing is seeing a revival. In the past, the custom was observed at funerals, weddings, and during times of war. But today, practitioners have a modern application for it: musical therapy. By providing an opportunity to process emotions through song, lament singing can confer mental health benefits to modern practitioners.” – Tristan Ahtone
“How an Ancient Singing Tradition Helps People Cope With Trauma in the Modern World”
Song of Myself, excerpt from verse 6,
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.
I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young men? and old
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed