In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, we asked writers what song makes them cry.
I spent most of my college years trying, like all college students, to figure out who I was and find my crowd. I had a solid group of friends, a college radio show, and a decent alcohol tolerance, but it wasn’t until my junior year that I really hit my stride. I heard about a meeting of the Feminist Coalition on campus (cliché, I know, but everyone was an activist in college), decided to go, and met a few people there who I instantly wanted to know better. The weird thing was, they wanted to know me too, and all of a sudden I was neck-deep in some of the smartest, funniest, kindest people I had ever met.
While this group was relatively teeming, one of the guys, Thom Wright, was especially interesting to me, and after a long flirtation, we ended up dating. Even though he was about to graduate, things felt serious. I don’t know if they were or not, but they felt that way. Summer came, and our friends invited us to go with them to a lefty skillshare/music festival in Louisville, Kentucky, so we did.
Right before we were supposed to leave, we heard everyone was going swimming in a quarry. We were reticent, but we went anyway. It’s fairly obvious where this is going, but I’ll say it anyway: Thom drowned there, in that quarry, in Louisville, Kentucky.
The weird thing about someone dying is that, no matter how much you loved them, the world goes on spinning, no matter how hard you push to try to stop it. I spent the rest of that summer lying in the dark, mostly checked out of life. I was a ball of raw nerves, ready to curl up and cry or break bottles and go manically crazy at any given moment. I thought I would die every time I got in the car, and I didn’t—couldn’t—understand why I was alive but Thom wasn’t.
At some point that fall, Mirah came to perform on campus. It was a small show, but my friends and I liked her records—2000’s You Think It’s Like This But It’s Really Like This and 2001’s Advisory Committee—quite a lot, so we went. The show was beautiful. Lush and cathartic, Mirah’s songs speak to life, love, and human insecurity, so I was already in her pocket when I heard what was then a brand-new song, “While We Have The Sun.”
While I know “While We Have The Sun” isn’t about my life or Thom’s death or my friends, it seems like it is even now, with its lyrics about how “all the ones you love will someday have to go,” and about how “if you feel all broken ’cause I left you there too soon / Just know that it’s not up to you to make the flowers wilt or bloom.” That’s the point of a great, universal song, I suppose, to make the listener relate, and I related hard. I cried that night and I cry even now listening to it, knowing that while Thom went too young, while he was here he took Mirah’s advice to “live your life with a compassion you can be proud of,” and then “let your last breath fade away with dignity and love.”
Both the world and I have moved on in the past 10 years, but there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Thom Wright and how, because of him, I’m reminded that what we have right now isn’t a given, and that, if we want to leave this place in peace, we better live every day to the fullest right now. And when I want to have a good cry about the whole sentimental mess, I listen to this song.