A few years ago, I made a music playlist called “Inspiration” and was listening to it with my daughter while returning from visiting my parents.  It was filled with anthemic songs that give me energy: Shake it Off by Florence + The Machines; Helter Skelter by The Beatles; Going Out in Style by The Dropkick Murphys; Lose Yourself by Eminem; “Run Riot” by Def Leppard; War by Edwin Starr; The Whole of the Moon by The Waterboys, and about 30 others.

Loud music made for a fun ride home as it played randomly through my car’s speakers.  The next song was Missed the Boat by Modest Mouse.  My daughter turned the volume down and asked incredulously as if she had just discovered another example of my stupidity, “What’s this song doing on a playlist called Inspiration?  This song isn’t inspiring!”

Missed the Boat begins with the shaking of maracas; an acoustic guitar rises and is finally joined by an electric.  The singer matter-of-factly joins his voice, singing words apparently from the middle of a conversation: “While we’re on the subject, could we change the subject now?”  The song is filled with similar negations and clever similes.

A soft and meditative rhythm keeps pace while others in the band join in singing the choruses. Meandering guitars play along and punctuate the song’s main point: Life passing them by.

Well nothing ever went
Quite exactly as we planned…
Oh and we carried it all so well
As if we got a new position

There is no blaming, though, and the singer doesn’t take himself too seriously, at one point singing, “Laugh all the way to hell/ saying yes, this is a fine promotion.”  He includes others in his lament, using the corporate “we” throughout, and together they acknowledge their fault in missing the boat and other opportunities.

Well we knew we missed the boat
And we’d already missed the plane
We didn’t read the invite
We just danced at our own wake….

The song ends with the group calling themselves “useless tools.”  

I told my teen, “This song is inspirational because sometimes in life you know you’re fucked, but you have to keep going, doing what you do.” 

You may like Harper Lee’s words in To Kill a Mockingbird better, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin any way and you see it through no matter what.”

Inspiration means to breathe and comes from the divine creative act of blowing the breath of life. Our word spirit, of course, is rooted in the same thing. Humans love and need their spirits to soar.

But what about the times our spirits are grounded? It’s easy to feel defeated, and the other word I used with my daughter. I’ve learned, however, that grounding isn’t bad; it’s being in our souls. At such a time, grounded in our soul, bodies, and brains, we turn to our wisdom and the strength and stories of collective history to continue the co-creation of our lives and world, both soulful and spirited.

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