The Light I Found In Leonard Cohen Above Any Dark in Four Parts

– 1 –


When I was about twelve, I took great pride in learning that I share a birthday with Leonard Cohen. My first language of expression was poetry that people often said was part songwriting at times, and I liked to imagine LC thumbed up the muse in my pen no matter we were separated by thirty years. I went out to buy and read The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers back then, then started collecting his poetry and albums, and never stopped.


Over the years, I also began to collect the albums and see concerts of the song muses he generously praised often, including Sharon Robinson, Anjani, The Webb Sisters, Jennifer Warnes. It was the latter’s Famous Blue Raincoat collection that I played daily back to front for many years, advertising it to anyone I knew, often going back and forth between her renditions and his as a means to better understand the voice of “a gypsy boy” so calming, so ravaged, and yet so luxuriant.

It didn’t matter that something of the experimental novels I reread often went over my head. The experiment radiated in me nonetheless just as his lyrics and his simple chords with a masterful inner world of complexity did. His delivery all spoke to an ancient depth of some longing for appreciation, kinship and human beauty in my heart. I remember the moments across my life in which his lyrics changed me with clear epiphany. It still can.


At twenty-one, I became transfixed reading the lyrics of Song of Bernadette, a poem he had written for one of his muses and set to music in collaboration with Ms. Warnes but never himself sang, unless with her. I sang it to my parents one day when I didn’t have the words to communicate that our family needed to be brave to openness between each other and healing. When I heard it then, as now, I think I felt named in my personal life mission by Mr. Cohen himself. Curiously, who Bernadette is and what her life song is about still stands for me. I’m not alone. 

Most recently it was to hear the ingenuity of him to have compose this Buddhist truth and how I felt a smile overtake me as he lets me know: “I don’t trust my inner feelings. Inner feelings come and go.” My Zen teacher also laughs to that one. Or, how in the purest moments of self-forgiveness, he still is able to lovingly remind the fractures of his own soul story that to take “a diamond to the pawnshop does not make it junk”.


He was so much gentle wilderness and so much the bohemian beautiful of my Montreal, and the way he did it made us all so proud. His poetry has had me stand under my city with all its myths, its homelessness and flowers and its beautiful lovers and its sex, every season its own character waking up to a distinct majesty of homecoming in my skin. There is this holy presence that was mine in my simply being a beholder to the mysterious daily city glories of my streets and its colourful occupants as it all communed together with nature, and lingered like slow time miracles of an unparalleled beauty, all along its river, over its bridges, through its mountain, and between its many sleeping saints. But it’s that to listen to him and to sit and read with him has had me feel so proud and grateful to be a human most of all.  


It was automatic to me that it’s Leonard Cohen who I played for days and days and the initial summer months to accompany me when I first moved in to my new place recently. Something about his voice as captain of a great life ship had my transition and all the unpacking feel like a true welcome home that was both gentler and appreciatively novel. His music also had me see place for gathering the perfect in a moving journey of many imperfects.

– 2 –

I wasn’t in Montreal for the week that he passed. I packed most of that Monday hurriedly, past exhaustion to the point of forgetting my own father’s birthday, and exited for a train on the Tuesday morning not knowing that Mr. Cohen had already passed. I noticed how I was strangely anxious all of Monday and how by Tuesday morning all felt clear. This was punctuated by a sudden and prolonged paining discomfort of not feeling safe in the world for some reason the early Thursday afternoon, though the sun was glory and all was good in the world by way of reason, but not in my disjointed soul. 

The intensity of discomfort turned into a distress cry to the point that I just had to sit on a hotel bed for a good while and release some tears not understanding any of the absence my soul quite suddenly felt. I soon stopped crying but something of me felt dubious in placement and lost in flight. The sensation disbanded as immediately when I met up with my friends and family members a few hours later. It was only then that I felt all the dismemberment in me quickly dislodged and repatriated by a concert of kinship and the great warmth of people hugs.


At an orthodox wedding on the same Thursday, I wouId learn of it, moments after making a toast to the bride and groom I so happily came out for, and oddly after no more than a few minutes of my having just shared wonderful conversation of a good half hour with a Toronto fellow guest intrigued as to where I came from, and who encouraged my sharing of my love of Leonard Cohen’s Montreal. Said guest, an accountant, was completely captivated by my tracing his Westmount boyhood into The Main adulthood, those “sublime” little things he never knew. We exchanged our review of Dylan and Cohen friendship notes, the songs on his newest album (and that I mentioned was still waiting in my Amazon cart), and that I knew, as he, were his songs of a beautiful and lasting farewell. We even went so far as to share all the Hallelujah renditions we knew of down to our reciting verses to each other.


It’s my cousin, Ilan, a hardcore thirtysomething fan going so far as to dedicate a wedding table to Mr. Cohen on his momentous day but a month ago, and who, yes, included a significant song of Mr. Cohen’s in his wedding procession, who broke the news to me right after that wedding toast. He knew I wouId be sad. Like he. He began to talk about Portuguese Square and Bagel etc. and Rue Marianne with me. It soothed. It really soothed.

Nothing of the Leonard Cohen coincidences I had just experienced that day felt coincidental. Rather it all felt purposeful, and my fellow accountant agreed, down to the comforting awareness that I wasn’t at all alone that day in that I was seated at a beautiful table surrounded by truly sincere and appreciative Leonard Cohen fans.

In fact, I had packed some poetry of his for the train ride to partake in that family occasion, a perfect companion, it felt to me, for a Toronto journey to include fond musings of my Montreal, a humble communion, the joys of brotherhood, understanding and bliss. Alas, it was too precious to me and as I had my iPhone with wifi access for the road trip, I decided it was wiser to leave behind a cherished 1966 copy of his earliest poems that a friend had gifted me at a particular moment in my life when I was full of trust in possibility as much as I was overwhelmed by the truth of my direction.

I was very much eased to have this book meet me by the nightstand where we reacquainted with some of my favourites once I got home. For the first time in years, the gift card slipped out that evening, and I read it: “This book is for you. I know these poems will comfort you and let you feel your inner magic for many years to come. Enjoy. Love, M.–”


I then caught up with some Facebook notes that havdalah evening, a Jewish rite marking the separation between the ordinary and the extraordinary of the week. I was further solaced by the remarkable Montreal posts of gentle gatherings, demonstrating unity, community friendliness, and a shared gratitude and appreciation of Leonard Cohen music by his favourite park across his home. They, and everyone singing and listening to his songs around the world, as much served to uplift a shared grief above these dark post-election affecting times.

It’s only that very night that I remarked to myself, also, that Mr. Cohen actually exited the stage the night before the visionary results of democracy coming to the USA would come through. That, at least to me made, and still makes, perfect sense. For the last few days it has felt to me, indeed, as if that Tuesday was the day the music had died somehow in the American Pie; and yet here, even in his passing, Mr. Cohen could manage to bring the music back to us. He has loved us, his human friends, that much.

– 3 –


On my first Sunday morning back home and since the news, I also noticed that the trees sheltering my home that were full of leaves on the day I left town now stood beautifully bared. They don’t look that wistful or fragile at all. Cleared to a new November truth over the few days of absence, I smiled within as I picked up on how much more light could now get in because of such a freeing. 


Such a gesture within nature is akin to that bittersweet freeing one can instantly perceive in a voice on his last album that is so hauntingly dark about arriving to the end of the journey yet so caressed in life love with each delicately and difficult pressed word. It is so much so that each song poem and its melody intoxicates and soars into some strange and affecting shining light; and to think that he laboured in love to have even left us with a finale of love-songs on the finer art of appreciating both our smaller and bigger deaths, and letting go. 

On my first Sunday home, as I turned on my car engine, I was as humbled to hear his Hallelujah sing out from a CD I left positioned there before I had left for the train station. I felt that special something of his crack a window in my heart as soon as I heard his lovely baritone, and I could feel the light get in. I then took my ipod of his albums to the summit forest, my usual for a walk with my very human pup.

During our walk, I really appreciated the bare clothing of the trees and how their humanness, like his naked poetry, so warmed me anyway. I thanked him somewhere in the blue ether to have been one welcomed to the love in his gypsy voice, how his delivery of truths sang so beautifully low without affect that something of me, likely like you, always felt welcome in our ordinary to just join him, and sing. In his heart-songs and poetry, very much like birds dotting the telephone wires, a sentient world of light and dark, all extraordinary, continues to greet us.


It never seemed to matter to him either that your contribution to his songs be on key. He let you somehow know in every song that you held the key along with him anyway. L. Cohen, I realize, has shared truths of our humanity when it is naked, wounded, broken, and yet, my favourite of words in all his work remains Love. I also need thank my Uncle Eddy for helping me pierce to such a sublime observation and for Mr. Cohen granting me good worlds of conversation about his songs with people I love to begin.

Love’s beauty permeates every chord, his every poetic word, his being. His songs and poetry, the way I see it now having just been an attendant at one, is very much like being a guest to a marriage ceremony.

At every concert, I also marvelled that he so loved the word ‘kind’ — he repeated it warmly and often– as he did “sublime”, and it always felt like a special priestly blessing of the Kohanim to receive how he saluted us, his audience, his appreciative listeners and followers, in the special rumbly way he called us “my dear friends”.


The sublime host, Montreal, November 29, 2012

Best of all, Mr. Cohen was a beautiful and gentle, generously wise and sincerely wry man. He was gentle and affectionate to his Montreal, his island of Hydra, his monastery in LA, his soldier audience in Israel, and all the many cities and countries he travelled around the world.

He was the purest ambassador of love in poetry and song. I realize each offering has been a gift like a psalm of David. He really cared about the mystery of our human condition; but unlike most common man poets, he chose to share that love warmly with us in all its purposefulness. He bathed my heart no matter all the unknowns and the imperfect road in a healing familiarity. Sometimes for me it has included gentle conversations in a quiet closeness with God. 

Even his wry signatures of life notes no matter there was some pessimism felt like reassuring, happy guideposts into new banners of a greater love.

ravine-01How could you not accept the warmth and love in his invitations? How could I not accept a road of poetry and personal song that enamoured me to quiet reflections with soft optimism and full presence? It’s Mr. Cohen who has let me walk brave. I have always felt the room to fill life’s mysterious and beautiful cup with him as a listener. To listen to him all these years is to have felt a divine helm bridging hard truths in the life soul where all the dubious and wandering at any point of my life became sensical and whole.

I believe something of me will always thank you for your beautiful humility, Mr. Cohen, your impressive towers of song and your magnificent way of delivering verse that spoke to my heart and to my soul’s most desired homecomings. I also thank you because this homecoming was beautifully collective and not just mine.

I thank you for inspiring the writer and the good in me to want to reach for the beautiful and to dare to go deep. I thank you for your generous gifts to us with kisses more than a thousand deep. May there be comfort as profound for dear Adam and dear Lorca and your many “dear friends” as your dashing physicality now sleeps.

– 4 –

A glorious ravine path found me the Thursday morning I was away and before news of our captain came to our collective attention. I recall how I felt such a distinct, warm peacefulness within to be present to such a simple, beautiful path while enjoying a morning walk in an unfamiliar forest with a sweet family friend. It felt like a prayer to me really to be standing and taking notes before it the way it married sky and uplifted and enjoined me to an almost holy unfettered grateful joy for what is. To thank it further had me feel a great kinship to the everlasting presence in all things as well as a broad faith with love in all possibilities. I felt blessed to be both a supplicant and an honorary stranger to such a day’s music. It’s something like what the wash of his poetry and songs can do, and the plenitude of love he leaves behind. Each song says, no worries, you’re home. 

Mr. Cohen was our bird on that wire and the way he tried in his own way to be free has, I believe, set each one of us a little more free. If anything, I know for certain it has of me. I shall always thank the way he came so far for beauty, our beauty, most of all.


I shall continue to read his poems and masterful lyrics, and I shall continue to listen to his beautifully profound songs ever appreciative to be reminded of how the human kindness and great friendliness in my soul can, too, get it done. I shall also be proud to be a Montrealer of brave magic no matter where I go, thanks to the fine L. Cohen. 

My praise is to be part of the ongoing chain so humanly touched by his body of loving soul work and that is sure to stay extraordinary that way. Thank you, Mr. Cohen. You have truly been a dear friend.

Dance now to the End of Love.

signaturePhotography by Marina Mashaal

Showing 11 comments
  • Ezra Soiferman

    Beautiful tribute! Thank you for sharing all this, Marina.

    • myheartspeak

      Thank you kindly, Ezra. Know that your art shares are something that inspire me, too.

  • Sass P.

    Your words leave not much to add. Vulnerability is the ultimate courage and you have shown it in this post, so bravely and with such kindness. Be you…but only 100% of the time.

    • myheartspeak

      Wow. I thank you, Sass. What beautiful words of strength to my heart indeed. I hope you will visit sometime again.

  • Adina

    Your words are transportive.
    Thank you for sharing ❤️ Continue with strength, expression and love. This truly is “heart spoken”

    • myheartspeak

      Thank you so much, Adina. I am warmed by your good notes and your kind soul thought.

  • Annalie Shahin

    Ah, and I have goosebumps. Beautiful words – so perfectly strung together. Thank you for sharing, M. <3

    • myheartspeak

      Thanks, dear wonderful A. I appreciate your cheer receiving it like a song.

  • ann

    Lovely blog, Marina. I will definitely share it with friends.

    • myheartspeak

      I thank you, Ann. I appreciate your kind support and kind encouragement. I’m truly humbled by it. I hope to transmit many more “diamonds” as a writer.

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