Lessons Hard-Learned

Johnny Cash left us the Ecclesiastes of Country Music.

When one comes to the end of one’s life, that sometimes (unfortunately, not always) is a time for reflection.

In Ken Burns’ PBS series, “Country Music”, Burns briefly hinted that Johnny Cash had such a reflective time during the last months of his life. One way Cash showed how he was going through this time was to make a powerful and heart-wrenching recording and video of a Nine Inch Nails’ song called “Hurt.” Unfortunately, this video did not have a prominent episode in Burns’ documentary.

The original Nine Inch Nails song told the story of a self-cutter, a self-mutilator. It was about the hurt she was enduring and causing others. Johnny Cash turned the song with the same lyrics into a commentary on the hurt he’d done, and how, throughout his life, his eyes had been fixed on things of this world that had now vanished.

In his version of the song, Cash knows his numbered days are almost at their end. In the video, we can see a change in Cash’s perspective as he now truly understands the significance of the crown of thorns thrust on Jesus’ head. We see such an image in the video. The hurt done to Jesus, his Savior, opens Cash’s eyes to the hurt he’d caused others. He’s hurt others by having his eyes focused on success, on being on the road constantly, instead of having his focus on relationships.

Now, in light of eternity, he sees that the things he lived for were merely transient, and were now long gone. Those things long gone are: The House of Cash Museum that now has a “Closed” sign on its door; images of Cash walking around his abandoned, small house where he grew up; photographs of him when he was much younger; photographs of his various gold records; a photograph of him with his now departed wife, June Carter Cash. Johnny Cash took the song about a self-mutilator and turned it into a Christian lament about a life in many ways successful in the eyes of the world but, in the long run, wasted on things that had no true eternal value.

Just like the self-mutilator, the true hurt done by Cash was caused by Jonny Cash not only to others, but also to himself.

One can call this video the Ecclesiastes of Country Music. But despite its grim and melancholy tone, there is hope in the video nonetheless. Even at the end of a life lived for the wrong reasons, one can still reflect and repent and seek forgiveness.

One can, as did Solomon, offer one’s hard-learned wisdom to others.


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