I had never planned to record With or Without You.
In fact, I planned not to. A few years ago, I planned on recording a very different song I wrote that quotes part of U2’s famous song, but had a very different message (I may still yet record it).
I was always deeply moved by the song’s epic and distinctive beauty. But the paradox of the words had always troubled me. How Bono could feel so internally torn, I didn't fully understand. But I still listened and sang at the top of my lungs in my car, because it was beautiful. And then one day the words became real to me.
It’s odd to me how one simple question can feel insignificant one day, yet can trigger a thousand floods of emotion the next. I broke down into tears one morning when my recording engineer just asked me how I was. My engineer was also a long-time friend, so I shared with him the news that a serious relationship I was in had just ended. A songwriter I was producing vocals for was running late for the session, so we had some time to unpack a bit of my story. I tend to be somewhat private about my dating life when it comes to social media, but we had had some of these dating conversations in the past, and I expressed how deeply significant and meaningful this relationship had been to me and how letting go of it was honestly the hardest decision I had ever made.
Waves of grief kept knocking me over. I told him how even though the relationship had ended a couple times before, my heart truly struggled with what felt like an impossible decision. I had invested significant time, even years, along with my entire heart, in this relationship, and I was buried in an ocean of sadness over it. That morning, in my friend’s small home studio, it was hard to keep my emotions in check. My heart felt achy and raw. I found myself saying, "Its' just so hard. I don't want to let him go, but I know I need to. It feels like I can't live with or without him."
My friend gave me an odd look, went to his keyboard and began to play the familiar chords to the U2 song. He motioned for me to head to a makeshift-ISO-vocal-booth and sing. Oh no, I thought. I did not feel like singing that morning, and I walked to the booth feeling some weird mix of numbness and searing-hot heart pain. The kind that chocolate and Netflix can’t even begin to fix. I sang anyway.
Singing those lyrics hit my soul like someone had ripped my heart wide open to expose my rawest and deepest, fleshiest, most tender feelings. Although I had loved the song, I had never identified with its words like that before. Suddenly, the lyrics became personal. Bono’s song became sacred ground for me that morning. I sang it from a different place, present to all the loss and pain and bittersweet feelings of a relationship I had wanted so much to work, but didn’t.
In that moment, Aaron, my engineer, shared not only in my pain, but also added his voice to mine. His is the other voice you hear on the track.
Though the healing journey would be far from complete for a long time, I began the sticky process of tending to my heart and picking up the pieces to begin my journey forward. Sometimes the heart can take a long while to recover from an ending. Especially when a relationship holds so much potential and the “without you” part feels incredibly difficult and unclear.
But one thing I am discovering is that we can move forward. However, first we need to stop and grieve. And just feel. And sometimes we need to sing in the moment it hurts the most, as raw and shaky as our voices may be. And sometimes we need to cry our eyes out all night and use every tissue in the Kleenex box. And pray. And talk to friends. And listen to sad songs. And sometimes we need to repeat the process again and again. And again.
After I recorded With or Without You, I never planned to release it. I figured it was just kind of for my own processing. But recently, in my own efforts to be courageous and vulnerable, I decided I wanted to.
And so I offer it to you. May it help you feel... and, if needed, even grieve.
I wish you real healing and love. From my broken—and still healing heart—to yours.