The year was 1972. I was living in a house on top of a hill in Mandeville Canyon, L.A., playing the albums of my coming of age in a perpetual loop. There were other people who lived in the house but my memories are of being alone a lot while my mom was out on dates and my brother was holed up with his bong and my sister was too young to be in my field of vision. My dad hadn’t lived with us since I was seven, a heartbreak I never quite recovered from. Kate Campbell was born the same year as me—1961— and lived in a cheery home in Nashville, Tennessee, a Baptist preacher’s kid raised in the thick of the civil rights movement, surrounded by people— friends, family, admirers of her father. We each remember hearing the song, the foreshadowing hum, the line that launched the timeless seeker’s tale… “Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together.”
So begins the Simon & Garfunkel tune that was forever seared on our eleven-year old psyches; one line, we recount now, perhaps above all the rest. “Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said “though I knew she was sleeping.” In an instant we knew the power of art, and the stuff of truth: in the human condition we will forever struggle with being known, understood, heard, even by the people who know us best. We can never quite form the words. Not in time. Not before the moment passes. “Kathy, I’m lost,” the song which is called America says, an anthem to pining and searching and the ineffable ache of longing that is, perhaps, felt most keenly in this country where we fell in love with the idea that we could have/be/do anything we wanted, a freedom which has proven to be a greater burden than anyone imagined. Perhaps this generation, with their gnawing fear of missing out, will spark to these lyrics anew.
Kate and I have helped each other carry the load of the artist’s burden of uncertainty for 15 years now. Shared stories of lifetimes spent pouring out the gifts we each knew we had at eleven, at nine. I started reading at three. Kate begin singing in church at seven. “Out of the heart will flow rivers of living water.” Kate would have known that this was from Scripture decades before me; still, she was no clearer than I where the outpouring was leading, how it was all meant to add up. “What am I doing here?” How many times had we found ourselves saying this over the years, and then, by some primal mix of self-knowledge and faith, we kept going, certain in the way that our “friend” Thomas Merton captured so beautifully in this prayer:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Kate pulled into my driveway in L.A. yesterday, making a loop to see me as she finished several tour stops in CA. The tracks for the new album are almost done. She recorded a lot of the songs on her iphone accompanying herself on an old Wurlitzer, or her guitar. Although 99% of her work is her own magnificent writing, she has covered three tunes in this one. The K.O.A. Tapes the album will be called when it’s released this summer. It is the soundtrack of her life on the road. A life of asking, “what am I doing here?” and continuing to show up anyway. And now, after 20 years, those answers are becoming clearer in a way that brings peace. It is this peace, this deep sense of being in our “right house” that we all seek. The peace that D. H. Lawrence describes as “sleeping on the hearth of the living world, yawning at home before the fire of life, feeling the presence of the living God like a great reassurance, a deep calm in the heart.”
When we struggle to find it, may songs like this let us know that we are not alone.
(America, sung by Kate Campbell, lyrics by Paul Simon)
3 thoughts on “Kathy, I’m Lost”
I could have benefited from having that prayer in my repertoire of prayers 50 years ago… always willing to follow God, but uncertain where He was leading. I have found some clarity today by looking back and seeing the road He had in mind that we followed together…and the people He placed in my life at the right time …learning to trust that I need not fear the road ahead because He & I face the perils together.
As always, thanks for your words, Heather.
Thanks, John. I’ve just sent her sung version of the prayer to your Twitter feed. It’ll break your heart and make you whole again in the best possible way.