On Repeat

I have been listening to Ed Sheeran a lot recently. I became aware of him a while ago, Chris first introduced me to his music when we watched a recording of his performance at Wembley Stadium. When ÷ came out last year I immediately downloaded the entire album. I listened to a song here or there for a few weeks and then put it away. But then on my solitary trip to the Wild Hare 50k in November, I played the album on repeat throughout the 5 hour drive each way. The ebb and flow, the highs and lows, each song burned into my brain. And while some songs did not reach me at first, by the end of the weekend I had fallen in love with every nuance, every detail, every rise and fall, the journey of the album as a whole.

I am not the type of person who keeps music constant in the background. I am perfectly comfortable with silence. I write in silence, I work in silence, I run in silence, I cook and clean and go about life largely in silence. Silence is comforting to me, it is peaceful. And yet, sometimes the strongest form of silence is that in the middle of a crowd, tucked in the corner of a coffee shop as the hum of voices fades into nothing, soothed by the footfalls of others as we run stride for stride, words unspoken. These are the places I typically feel most at home. Silence outside to balance the noise inside my head.

I suppose that has been the largest challenge in parenting for me. The constant noise, the constant chatter, the inability to disappear into silence on my own terms. I love my son, I love hearing about his day, learning what is going on in his head, listening to the sweetness of his voice, memorizing the sound of his breath. But I cannot control the silence anymore, it is no longer mine to claim when I wish. It has gotten easier as he has aged, with school and activities taking large chunks of the day. He is busier, he is gone more, and I find my silence more readily, but still on his schedule. The crazy thing is now I have more access to my solace, my time alone, my quiet, I find I miss the baby, I miss the constant togetherness, I miss the noise. Such is the fleeting nature of life I guess, you can’t miss it until it’s gone.

And that brings me back to Ed Sheeran. For such a relatively young singer, his lyrics hit so deep. I was shocked to learn I am more than 10 years his senior. How can someone so young write with such an old soul? The mix of pain and joy wound deep into his songs is overpowering at times. He is unapologetic in his truth and in his perceptions. And he touches upon the beauty that is bound to the trauma of life so inexplicably and so well. I have now listened to all his albums, cover to cover, if that is the correct term. And while individual songs stand out to me in + and X, ÷ resonates in its entirety. The album is a journey, from pain through love, to joy, and back again. The songs rise and fall, ebb and flow, never leaving you high or low for too long. But he starts and ends with pain, while the beauty falls between. You can hear he has grown in this album, he has found bits of himself he hadn’t known were lost. He returns to his roots openly in “Castle on the Hill,” but more quietly in songs about his grandparents and love. The anger in X has tempered, it is deeper in some ways, but more settled, a part of him, reforming him, and making him stronger and wiser. He is not the same now, and his songs are better for it.

Ed Sheeran still plays on repeat in my car. Mostly ÷, although sometimes a few of my favorites from earlier years. I know all the lyrics by heart, and as a visual learner who does not learn songs by ear easily, that tells you something. Life is beauty, but it is also pain. Raising a child, shaping a marriage, sorting out who you are and who you were meant to be, it all comes with a price. In the end, life isn’t about avoiding pain, it is about learning to find joy in the struggle. Ed Sheeran may not have known all the life experiences I have faced to date, and I may have skipped many of the paths he has traveled. But to me, his music paints the perfect ebb and flow, truly touching upon the poignant balance of pain and joy that makes up life. And so his songs play again, replacing the silence I used to crave, on repeat.