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Saturday, 9 January 2010

Walk Forever By My Side

Walk Forever By My Side

It was my attempt to create a 'hymn' like song that could be sung by an individual or by a community but still held on to the one meaning. I'm still amazed at how many people have had this song played at their weddings and I've got a feeling this one song will live longer than all of us who are familiar with it today.” – Mike Peters

In the Book of Ecclesiasties you can find these verses:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can anyone keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (4:9-12)

What the wise man Solomon discovered hundreds of years ago was that going it alone is not necessarily a good thing. If he fell down on his own there would be nobody close by to help him back up to his feet again. If he laid down on a cold winters night alone how would he be able to stay warm? If he got into a battle he would easily be overpowered by his foe unless he had the knowledge that someone stood beside him and fought the fight with him.

In the song ‘Walk Forever By My Side’, Mike Peters sings about exactly the same thing: we need each other. The journey is at times very tough at times. You feel weakness, an inability to face the future alone, and a continual need for Love Hope and Strength from someone who is near and dear, and it comes from the person or persons who have thrown in their lot to walk with you side by side no matter what may come across the path. This is what I think Mike Peters meant when he said the song “song could be sung by an individual or community” and yet still retain its “one meaning”.

There are three places within the song where we are going to need each other to make it through and I’ll take them one by one as they unfold in the song.

Firstly: The Field of Broken Dreams

Walk forever by my side
Never lose sight of the day
When we will run through all our weakness
On through the fields
Strewn with our broken dreams
Walk forever by my side

Many fans of The Alarm have often wondered if the band would have enjoyed greater success had they been on a different label back in the 1980’s. I.R.S. were not necessarily the most supportive label. Miles Copeland was obviously more interested in seeing his brother Stuart’s band, The Police, getting the accolades after they begun to reach the charts with their music. The Alarm of course carried on with or without such support and their fan base across the world kept them in the public eye.

The Alarm had always been spoken of in the same breath as U2 and we know what happened to them. They went on to become one of the best selling artists around the globe with their over the top concerts drawing the tens of thousands. Actually what people forget is that at the time U2 were just beginning to catch the attention of the world on the ‘War Tour’ of the USA, is that The Alarm were their support band. The dreams of international success never came the same way as it had done so for their Irish counterparts. They continued to release albums and singles, go on tour, be on TV but their dreams were shattered by a music press that cared little for them and shunned them at every opportunity.

The Alarm might have been big dreamers but those dreams lay scattered in The Field of Broken Dreams come 1991 when Mike Peters left the band after a show at the Brixton Academy. Amazingly enough Peters carried on with solo projects and then formed Coloursound and from that came the birth of the new Alarm. Whilst they may not have risen to the giddy heights they had previously enjoyed they walked together through it all alongside their fans.

Mike Peters also had dreams of good health after beating cancer once but it came back as the band were about to launch out on tour for their album ‘Under Attack’. He never gave up without a fight (as the song on the album testifies) and he did it, not on his own, but surrounded by a great medical team, his family, his band and the good wishes of his fans. The result of that second fight was the Love Hope Strength Foundation. They dared to dream big and before them were mountains (literal ones) like Everest and Kilimanjaro, and they scaled them and in the process raised thousands of pounds for cancer charities.

We, like Mike, have had dreams. Some of them have come to pass, whilst others lie in the Field of Broken Dreams, shattered into a million pieces. What was it that got us through those terrible times of disappointment? A friend, a work colleague, a loving family or a place on the Internet where you met with friends scattered across the world? Whatever it was, you didn’t go through it all alone. You had someone by your side helping you to overcome the heartache of ill health, a broken relationship, a lost job, the death of a loved one. You poured out your heart and others came rushing to your side to walk with you in it. Their friendship, their words of encouragement and loving support aided you when you needed it most. What you discovered in the midst of this Field of Broken Dreams was that it was not all over. It was not time to shut up shop. It was the perfect moment to dream again.

Secondly, there is The Way of the Unknown

Stay forever in the light
Never lose sight of the way
For I alone can’t face the future
I need your strength
To help me make it through
Walk forever by my side

We live in a world where people want to know the future and of course they want that future to be a good one. We want certainty that it’s all going to work out just fine. So day in and day out people find themselves reading their stars in the newspapers, or visiting a person who for a price will read their cards for them, or will gaze into a crystal ball and offer comfort for journey ahead.

The reality is that none of these people can really tell you what the future will be for you. They can never say for certain that you will never get sick, or lose your job, lose your home, or that someone you love is going to pass away. They cannot give you any great certainty that you will always have a clear path to walk on and that nothing will ever trip you up.

We have all had that experience of not knowing what direction we are going in, of not knowing what tomorrow will bring. We have all at one time or another felt paralysed in our present because for one reason or another we fear the future and what it may bring.

In the song Mike Peters sings about not being able to face “the future” alone and that he requires strength from outside of himself in order “to make it through”. Just as in the Field of Broken Dreams it is the importance of others in our lives that is going to “help” us get through The Way of the Unknown. That strength of course can come in many guises, from being there for someone in the midst of their crisis, to being a good listener, to being a person who encourages when despair seems to take over, to providing wise counsel when the one we are seeking to help is truly out of options. Whatever the predicament it is a call to come alongside and walk together and come out on the other side with a greater sense of vision and purpose.

It would seem easy at this point to direct folks to a much higher Being than ourselves who says that He knows the plans that He has for us or that He will guide us and watch over us and lead us along the best pathway for our lives. Where I am weak I can count on His strength because His strength is made perfect in weakness. When I don’t know what the future holds I know One who holds the future in His hand and I can place my faith in Him. But not everyone is a person of faith in that way, but that shouldn’t stop us from showing some humanity to each other, should it?

Thirdly, The Dark Valley

Hope you’ll stay with me tonight
Lift the veil from my eyes
For I am weak and I am foolish
I need your love
To see me through the darkness
Hope you’ll stay with me tonight

The third place that the song speaks about is a place of darkness. Some of us don’t like the darkness because we cannot see what is around us. The trials and tribulations of life can often obscure our vision so it seems like we have a “veil”. We might see shadows or silhouettes but our true vision is clouded. In that place we have tendency to make wrong decisions and take detours that lead us further away from the place we want to be. In this valley we may find a hill that we can climb to get out but we lose our grip constantly and slide back down to the bottom again. We need help and we cannot do it alone. We need someone to draw near and “Lift the veil from my eyes” and that means that we who are able to see can lead the afflicted one through the valley.

We need to experience love to help us through the darkness because maybe we have done some unlovely things. What we need is a love that does so without condition, and as another Alarm song says, ‘Love Don’t Come Easy’.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (13:4-8)

That kind of love does not come easy but that is what is called for in the song.

Walk on ’till morning
All my days are yours
Walk on ’till morning
All my days are yours

That little line, “All my days are yours” always bothered me. I often wondered what on earth Mike Peters was on about when he wrote the song, but in the light of all that goes before I see it now. It’s about responsibility. I am responsible for you as you are responsible for me. We don’t always see it that way because we think that we can go it alone. If we have learnt anything from the song it is that going it alone gets us into all sorts of trouble but when we see that in some way we are connected “We get to carry each other” (to quote a U2 song).

Walk forever by my side

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