In the penultimate verse of ‘Georgia Lee‘, Tom Waits channels the voice of Georgia and sings the following:
Close your eyes and count to ten
I will go and hide but then
Be sure to find me, I want you to find me
And we’ll play all over
We will play all over again
To me this is the most devastating verse in the song. To me it speaks of the betrayal of innocence and of godforsakenness. Why is this? Because Tom Waits is singing of a little girl who becomes lost and then dies.
But this isn’t just some sort of tragic accident, or some sort of misfortune caused by blind fate. No, Waits directs his charge to God and the refrain of the song is this:
Why wasn’t God watching? Why wasn’t God listening? Why wasn’t God there for Georgia Lee?
This is why, when we come to the penultimate verse, one does not simply think that Georgia is speaking to her parents or her playmates. Rather, one imagines a small child trusting in God, in the goodness of the world, wanting to run and play, hide and be found. But God is not trustworthy, the world is not safe, and the child is found much too late. Here, innocence is not simply lost — it is killed.
I have been thinking a lot about this song over the last few weeks. Playing with my infant son, I have been reminded of when I used to be innocent — when I used to believe in the fundamental goodness and beauty of the world, when I used to believe that God would come and save us all, and when I used to believe that love conquered all. Hell, I was even eager to seek out the darkest places I could find because I was so convinced of the truth and efficacy of these things.
Now I don’t know if I believe any of them anymore. Now, while I am still often overwhelmed by the beauty and goodness of our world, I am also, or perhaps even more often, overwhelmed by the brokenness of our world. Now, while I am still waiting for God to come and save us, I have grown accustomed to the experience that, for many (perhaps even most of us), God never shows up. Now, I have seen things that are stronger than love — so while love can conquer all, it only rarely actually does so. More often, death prevails.
Mostly, then, I think we awaken to the brokenness in our world and in ourselves and discover that we are alone. We awaken to a world without God or, even if we continue to believe in God (as I do), we awaken to the realization that, when it comes to God, we have all been betrayed; we have all been abandoned. We are, all of us, Georgia Lee lost and dying in a lonely place, waiting for the God who never comes. Or who comes too late.
So one can believe in God or not. In the end, it doesn’t seem to make any meaningful difference.