Keep Listening

We get bad news in funny ways in today’s hyper-connected world. Friday’s email came via paperless post from the family of a friend—an invitation to his memorial.

That’s where the progress stopped.

I had been writing my ass off, working hard to, you know, march through March like I intended. In fact, I received that email just after sharing a new article I wrote for The Fix. I’m hoping to raise awareness concerning how our system mishandles those who suffer from addiction; I’m making plans with different prison outreaches. And then I learn that my friend died from an opioid overdose.

The train came to a screeching halt without reaching the station.

This post is the first thing I’ve been able to write since hearing the news. It’s not that I’ve been incapacitated with grief; he was not a friend I was in regular contact with, but he was a friend I’ve shared many a drink and drug with, and he died, a sufferer of addiction. It’s not news you process like the news you see scrolling through the morning’s feed.

Why couldn’t I just keep up with routines and move forward, knowing that these things happen all the time? Why couldn’t I sit in church on Sunday and know that God’s got all this, that I don’t need to worry? Why couldn’t I think to the good times we shared instead of the reunions we couldn’t?

I lost my routine. I got up early Sunday like I always do, but I had nothing to write. I apologized later to my #5amWrtersClub.

It was like a thick fog settled over my brain and I couldn’t find my way back home. Instead of creating, I wanted to destroy, to tear everything apart. I was chippy with my wife and short with the kids.

I also heard a new song.

A piece of art has no objective perfection. But I believe art can fit us perfectly, pin us exactly to a moment of sorrow or joy. Art can know us better than we know ourselves. In that relative sense, this song was and is perfect. The song broke me, cracked me, right where the healing needed to happen.

Here’s a link to the Humboldt Live Youtube video of the song.

It’s off Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soulful Orchestra’s debut album. The violin plucks, the base runs to searing imagist poetry. The song wouldn’t let me go. I listened to it eighty-seven times, according to my Spotify history. And while it wouldn’t let me out of whatever fog I was in, it told me with each listen that the fog is an acceptable place, that I can accept the fact that I am pissed-off, angst-ridden, and devastated—that what isn’t comfortable is perfectly acceptable. I played it over and over again.

At one point my wife had to hit pause on my phone.

Another time, in the car, my son said, “this song is scary.”

Abandoned mine shaft via

No doubt it scared him. It dances in the unspeakable darkness, perhaps in the mine shaft where the cold canary gas light goes out. It’s those places where we need to know and understand we’re not alone; that how we feel, no matter how unnamable, is what it means to be a human, what it means to be alive.

I kept listening.

I keep listening, hoping that relief will come.

I tell myself that his life, while lost without need, was not lost without purpose.

And I keep listening.

29 Responses to “Keep Listening

  • Andrew Ahmad-Cooke
    11 months ago

    Lovely piece Mark. Music soothes the savage beast but also unlocks memories and emotions long buried. Thank you for sharing. Did you see my last piece ‘Games We Play’? I hope one day to appear on your ‘Sites I’m Browsing’ list.

    Keep it coming. Andy/Alan/addict2016

  • I think you said it, “was not lost without purpose”. That is where the answer you seek lies. Without ever meeting you I feel like I know you well. That still small voice, that urge that you hear but discount maybe because its not what you expect, hear that, do that. I believe in that your answer will come as well as peace and purpose in this. Love ya man.

  • The death of someone we know should impact us. He may not have been a close friend. But you knew him. And his story. And he mattered. That, is loss. And I’m sorry for his loss and the suffering and additional loss this causes others.

  • Really sorry to hear about your friend, thank you for the link , I’ll be buying that music. Music absolutely soothes the soul. I’ve been surrounded by it all my life. Hope you are well.

  • Mark, I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing the tool you used to make sense of the situation. Through much reflection, I have realized that music is my higher power, and you very eloquently explained the meaning many people find in it. Rob R.

  • I’m sorry for your loss. Even if it’s not a close friend, the shared experiences you had and the loss of a contemporary remind us of our own mortality. Wishing you peace and ease. <3

  • Thanks for sharing. Wonderful video too.

  • This is the greatest reason, why my heart goes out to Counselors that serve those who suffer, I’ve lost too many close and not so. Beautifully described. Thank You

    • You’re reminding me to call my old counsellor. I used to every year. Just to tell him I’m doing fine. I haven’t for a while. I should. Thanks for your comment.

  • Susanne Blumer
    11 months ago

    So sorry you lost your friend. Losses like this take time to process. Hits a little too close to home. 🙁

  • Ugh. It never stops being heartbreaking and terrible. So, so sorry to hear this Mark. Stay close and keep reaching out. xo, S.

    • Thanks Sean. I keep thinking about you and the growing Portland crew. Hope your transition is smooth and you and Michael are enjoying the city.

      • Thank you, Mark. We’re loving it. Michael’s out of town for work so I’m getting a chance to run around Portland and explore! It’s fabulous!

  • Lovely piece, Mark. Losing friends- no matter how we may define the relationship- to a disease we watch ourselves walk through every single day, is devastating. Truly. I get it.

    Susan Roeder

  • It is a good song, and yes, it is scary, but that’s what’s needed sometimes. I didn’t use it for the exact reason you did…but it was cathartic. When we lose someone we shared a connection, we lose a little bit of ourselves and that’s okay…as long as we understand we are, in fact, still whole. Much respect.

  • johnny Spence
    11 months ago

    oh Mk man, this fucking life, I swear. I grieve that endless shuddering total loss every time – johnny cash singing ‘hurt’ it hits like a freight train, I grieve for my best friends grew up with all 4, all gone, myself, the past. but there’s no way I can turn that off, this is our remembrance. is it luck that led us off? this one got to me, and you write it so much better than my clumsy efforts. your the Goodman brother, step lightly.
    N.B.the plans your making sound exciting, go Mk go!

    • Thanks John. It’s great to hear from you mate! That song is devastating. But I get it. We get it. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Elva Green
    11 months ago

    Wondering if you have a sponsor?

    • I do. Thanks Elva for looking out. A great sponsor who always listens. And I told him about this. The thing is, the whole thing just put me in that ‘nothing can help’ kind of states. And nothing helped, except for this song.

  • Nice BLOG!!! ADD my BLOG too!!! Kisses!!!

  • Oh mark, I’m so sorry. This whole epidemic is so preventable and it’s so tragic when yet another young life is lost. I would love to hear more about your prison outreach and your efforts. My passion is helping the parents who feel so shocked and bewildered at what has taken their child over. There are many facets to minister to the broken in this God-awful disease.

    • I’ve seen your passion in action, Annette. It is inspiring. You make your own personal efforts a road map for others to follow. I guess we do similar things with our blog. I’ll keep you posted with my plans. It looks like I’ll be heading to at least one prison in June for some outreach.

  • Mark, I am sorry.
    I volunteer for a foundation where many of the people I meet have lost a son or daughter to opioid overdoses.
    We are losing so many people to this addiction.
    The foundation helps educate the community about opioid addiction as well as give out kits with Naloxone. (
    They are also working with the doctors at the University of Minnesota to help teach doctors other ways to help patients with pain.
    The parents I have met, whose young sons/daughters have died, are powerful forces for change.
    They speak out on social media, work and volunteer in the field of addiction, and carry the pain with them.
    Big Hugs,

    • Wendy- thank you for the information. I’m bookmarking it. Eager to learn more ways to help prevent rather than mourn. Have a great weekend!

  • That is terrible news to receive. It is stunning and catches you in a roundabout you can’t exit, where you keep passing the person you lost and those you could have or worry someday you might. Truly sorry for you.

  • i’m very sorry for your loss. this post did inspire me. I write songs a lot and I want to write a song that makes people feel the way you felt

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