Why Sufjan Stevens would name this song Casimir Pulaski day intrigues me. Did the death of his friend occur on this day (March 4th is the feast day of St. Casimir, patron saint of Poland and Lithuania)? Is that alone sufficient? Is there something to this saint's life and death that makes a tragic death especially poignant (he was only 25 when he died, after all)? Does Sufjan Stevens even know about the history of St. Casimir? Or is this all coincidental? Am I ignorant of the impact that Polish culture has on the midwest? Surely this last question is the most important one to be answered in our immediate context of the song about St. Casimir. But I forgot to ask you--have you heard it? No? Well, even if you have, listen again, por favor.
Golden rod and the 4H stone,
The things I brought you
When I found out you had cancer of the bone.
Your father cried on the telephone
And he drove his car into the Navy yard
Just to prove that he was sorry.
In the morning, through the window shade
When the light pressed up against your shoulder blade
I could see what you were reading.
All the glory that the Lord has made
And the complications you could do without
When I kissed you on the mouth.
Tuesday night at the Bible study
We lift our hands and pray over your body,
But nothing ever happens.
I remember at Michael's house
In the living room when you kissed my neck
And I almost touched your blouse.
In the morning, at the top of the stairs
When your father found out what we did that night
And you told me you were scared.
All the glory when you ran outside
With your shirt tucked in and your shoes untied
And you told me not to follow you.
Sunday night when I cleaned the house
I found the card where you wrote it out
With the pictures of your mother.
On the floor at the great divide,
With my shirt tucked in and my shoes untied
I am crying in the bathroom.
In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window.
In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March, on the holiday,
I thought I saw you breathing.
All the glory that the Lord has made
And the complications when I see His face
In the morning in the window.
All the glory when He took our place
But He took my shoulders and He shook my face.
And He takes and He takes and He takes.
The lyrics to this song itself raise many questions. Is Stevens writing from the perspective of the doubter? Or is his viewpoint that of the person full of the most faith of all? The one who can be shaken at their shoulders and face, and not shut out that message, but incorporate such pain and suffering into a larger scheme where God is good, is the one who truly believes. The one who does not demand the world to go their way is the one who grasps their infinitude. But is all contentment apathetic? Or is there room for happiness which rises above the here and the now to contemplate the infinite, and so be content with whether He gives or He takes? To censor this message of questioning is to cease to be, for when questions cease one lacks the faith of a little child, and this is no mere lack, it is one where the little child's clamors are turned away. This is a positive tragedy, not a mere dire dirge dedicated to dearth.
And yet, the question arises, what of those many souls we know who have gone from questioning in a child's tone, to questioning in a plaintive one? Is there a line of delineation between the thinking that is childlike and the thinking that is religulous? Will Occam's razor cut the soul who is too eager to use it? Or does this take us back to asking whether there is such a thing as wrong questions? I think it does. But again, the question I have is: is it not the heart that matters most? Regardless of the questions asked, if the heart is there, it is not only unshakeable, it itself will ask any question without fear of its world being turned upside down. This is why we see young children asking us why the sky is blue. And why did we ever stop asking such questions? Questions, questions, questions.