We Have Absolutely No Control: Some thoughts on Pearl Jam’s “Sirens”


I have to admit, when I first heard Pearl Jam’s new song “Sirens” I was a bit skeptical.  With its big reverb guitars, drums, and vocals it seemed liked the sort of dentist’s chair power ballad that Pearl Jam has railed against throughout its 20 existence.  This said, after buying the album and having a few listens, this gem of a song has slowly become one of my favorites.  The reason this is so is that the expansive themes the song explores match the huge sound of the music.

“Sirens” is the inner dialogue of a man contemplating his mortality while hearing distant sirens and looking at the woman he loves.  The lyrics that come from this contemplation are simply profound.  Here’s some of my favorites:

Pearl Jam.promoFB.0920-13“Have to take your hand and feel your breath

for fear this someday will be over…

I pull you close, so much to lose

knowing that nothing last forever…

It’s a fragile thing, this life we lead

If I think to much I can get overwhelmed by the grace

By which we live our lives, with death over our shoulders…”

One of the reasons this song speaks to me is that ever since turning 30 and having kids the tragic reality of death has become real in a terrifying way.  No longer am I my own (not that I ever really was), but now I stand to leave behind a wife and kids.  What makes this reality most tragic though is that we have absolutely no control over when or how we die.  I could die today, tomorrow, or 60 years from now; but ultimately it’s not up to me.  Whether you’re a believer or not, when it comes death all we can do is simply surrender to whatever is going to take us.

As a Christian this is a reality I struggle with. To paraphrase Eddie, I live a life with death over my shoulder.  In faith I believe with the psalmist that “My times are in God’s hands” (Psalm 31:15) and that Jesus has taken away the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:16), while at the same time being frightened by the fact God does not reveal those times to us.  For me, this is the ultimate call to trust.  Scripture and reality itself don’t allow any other option.  Therefore, with the Psalmist and Jesus I can only cry out, “Into your hand I commit my spirit…” (Psalm 31:5 & Luke 23:46).  The tough part of this is trusting that the one who I’m committing my spirit to exists, is capable, and is good.  Here I can only look to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Because there I see that God exists, he is capable, and he is good.  Then and only then does the fear ever so slowly “go away.”

Ultimately, all of this is just a huge reminder of the fact that as humans all we can do is receive what God has for us.  Jesus says, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”  Simply put, “Shawn you have no control over when you die.  I do.  Look at how much I love you and let that lead you to trust.  I got this.”

Thanks Pearl Jam, for putting me in touch with that beautiful reality.


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