Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have covered a Radiohead song called Black Star (you can look at the lyrics here), a song in shich the speaker laments her/his lover's emotional distance. At each refrain the singer asks, What are we coming to?..., and can only blame external forces. The singer takes no responsibility, but locates the problems in the other. It is only in the final stanza, when it seems that the relationship is over, that the singer predicts her/his own meltdown. The singer denies that this relationship haunts her/him. Peace has not replaced the tempestuous relationship.
While I enjoy Radiohead, the Welch/Rawlings version breaks my heart. The blend of her forlorn voice and his lilting guitar dramatize the longing and the trouble that can characterize human relationships. The acoustic form seems much more apt to me for this everyday sort of tragedy than Radiohead's electric version. I don't mean to try to convince you; this song just moves me.
It came into my head (at first unwelcome, but I didn't kick it out) recently in my Marriage and Family Therapy class. I was hearing Gillian wonder, What are we coming to?... when my professor observed the following (I'm paraphrasing): We marry an assortment of problems hoping that these problems will improve. Some of these problems will improve over time. Some will take ten, twenty, maybe fifty years before they improve. And some will never improve. She was arguing for a place where couples could allow themselves simply to accept some of their partner's shortcomings. This could be called grace. This professor is also one to encourage individuals to focus on what they can change in themselves rather than on what they see as being problematic in their partner. It is not exactly insightful or helpful to simply blame a problem on a star or a satellite.
But it is failry human. Black Star is a statement of an individual who still wants to see improvement in her partner but is not willing to wait hopefully for this change. It is this hope that can make a fifty year marriage a holy place. This song reminds me that my marriage is a chance for me to grow up. Relationships, community, marriage are all potential means by which God sharpens us. Part of the tragedy of this song is that so many conclude that a relationship is not worth all of this effort, and that life would be easier alone. As the singer comes to recognize, this loneliness only makes one more susceptible to melting down.