Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” or The Song That Reduces Me to a Trembling, Weeping Mess

Confession time. Oversharing time. Look away in embarrassment time.

But that’s why I’m here, right? To make everybody uncomfortable?

I have a powerful physiological reaction to certain songs. I’ve always been extremely sensitive and incredibly susceptible to…well, everything. Certain weather makes me shiver with delight. The mere mention of a movie can transport me back to my exact feelings the first time I watched it. A piece of art will transfix me, and I’ll be unable to look away (even when the museum has closed and the security guards are threatening physical violence). Books, poetry…well, they wallop me in any number of ways: maniacal laughter…a seeming fugue state in which I’m lamenting the state of mankind…tears of joy or heartbreak.

Percy Shelley, Soul-Toucher
Percy Shelley, Soul-Toucher

And music does it to me too.

There are several songs that hit me hard. I’ll write about others one of these days (like Journey’s “Only the Young,” Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” and Bon Jovi’s “Never Say Goodbye”). But Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” as played by Yo Yo Ma hits me so hard I can scarcely breathe. And I only wish I were exaggerating.

Only the Young
Only the Young

You see, for some reason, even though it has no lyrics the song reminds me of my son. Bubba, we’ll call him. I guess it’s a well-known fact that the father-son bond is a deep and important one. But the bond between my son and me is so deep it penetrates the earth’s core, erupts through some crowded street in China, and burrows its way into deepest space. And every day it goes deeper, so much so that no number of light years could ever hope to outpace it. I love my Bubba so much it aches.

So…about that song.

I have an incredibly vivid and active imagination, and sometimes a song will spark it, will enflame it, will consume it. Until a full-fledged movie is playing in my mind. My inner eye takes over, and I might as well not be physically present. I listen and imagine and stare off sightlessly as the movie unfolds.

So what do I see when my I hear Yo-Yo Ma’s version of “Sheep May Safely Graze” (I won’t even try to type the actual Bach title)? I see this:

IMG_0372 2

And this:


Only it’s in motion. Here is my little boy on my hip as we wade through a creek in Santa Rosa, California. There is Bubba staggering around in his diaper, his chubby arms thrown out for balance, his chubbier legs in constant but jerky motion. I see my boy falling asleep against my shoulder in a cab after our first Cubs game. I see him crying when he tripped and split his forehead open on a piece of the driveway I should have fixed before it hurt him. I see his sweet little smile as he makes a joke at age two, his hopeful look at my reaction. I see his frustration as he tries to learn how to read at age five. I see him all over the place, everywhere, the images on a vivid, haunting loop in my mind. And God, do I love him. So much that I can hardly stand it.

That song. Man…that song.

You and Yo Yo Ma...You two cut me deep, man
You and Yo Yo Ma…You two cut me deep, man

I’ll stop now and let you listen to Bach and Yo Yo Ma. It probably won’t do to you what it does for me. And I realize a large contingent of my readers might be cocking its collective eyebrow at me and telling me to chill out, dude, it’s just a song.

And it is. But also, it isn’t. It’s more. Much, much more. It’s a pair of calipers that plunge into my chest, pierce my heart, and drag it out into the open where I can’t conceal it, can’t hide it, can’t do anything but ache and try to breathe and wish I could take a version of my baby boy at every age and carry all those versions with me for eternity. Because I love him so much it destroys me.

I won’t even get into the song’s title—which I didn’t know until I went to write this blog post—and how symbolic it could be. I’ll just say to those of you who are affected by art, by nature, by music…

You know what I mean.


4 thoughts on “Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” or The Song That Reduces Me to a Trembling, Weeping Mess

  1. Your soul just shines, Jonathan. Don’t stop writing this stuff … you have a talent for expressing the universal yet unique nature of such feelings.

    If it’s any consolation, I feel pretty much the same (with variations, of course) about exactly three people in this world — my husband, my daughter and my son.

    And, yes, it hurts sometimes. (I just had a near full-on panic-attack when my son – an 18 yr old trained martial artist — corrected his balance while we were walking along a narrow trail above a deep plunge toward the river 40′ below. Even I can see the irony there.)

    As for the music? It’s the cello. The cello gets me every time 🙂


    1. Renae, I loved this comment. Thank you so much! Then I forgot to respond. Please forgive me!

      I’m not a bit surprised to hear that you feel the same way about your loved ones. You clearly have a loving, luminous soul. And your story about your son in the narrow trail made me gasp for breath. Terrifying!

      Yes, the cello. Ah, the cello. Thanks again, Renae. 🙂


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