Slipping through my fingers – the dramatic threshold of change and mourning loss before it occurs

Like millions of others, I just fell under the spell of the recently released movie, Mama Mia. Who wouldn’t want to spend some time on a beautiful Greek island, dazzled by the flowers and stunning costumes, set against the sparkling Aegean sea? But it was the music that enchanted, the return to Abba’s splendid body of songs, that touched me. Meryl Streep’s achingly beautiful rendition of Winner Takes It All brought me to tears. She continues to impress me with her range of talents. Pierce Brosnan contributed his masculine beauty and a charming version of SOS, and (Julie Walters) and (Christine Baranski) provided several laugh-out-loud moments as Streep’s comedic sidekicks.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotional storm produced by hearing Slipping Through My Fingers. It brought me to free-reign tears. These tears don’t well in the eyes, waiting to be released and easily captured with a subtle sweep of the finger. These tears rush down the cheeks before you know they’re coming because your heart has been touched so deeply. I was watching with my younger daughter, scheduled to return to college the next day. To avoid embarrassing her or creating guilt, I concentrated on the neutral corner of the screen for a moment to regain my composure, thinking, “Geesh! Where did that rush of emotion come from?”

Meryl Streep packs an emotional punch singing "Slipping Through My Fingers"

Meryl Streep packs emotion in her songs in Mama Mia!

Released in 1981, Slipping describes a mother’s pain when preparing for her daughter’s wedding and the inevitable separation that shears the lifetime bonds of mother and child. The lyrics describe the missed opportunities, the sense of helplessness that accompanies the passage of time, the sense of loss that overwhelms, even though the daughter is still there. It’s those heart-heavy last moments when we slip beyond The Now, The Present, and mourn our loss before we have lost it.

How many times have we done that in our lives, mourned the loss of youth, for example, before we’re really aged? This phenomenon is powerful enough to sober even a flock of normally boisterous high school students, weighed down by the impending separation and knowledge that life will never be the same after that particular moment, because their friends are destined for distant universities and cities, or even different dorms and majors that will strip them of their comfortable life rhythms and bring permanent change.

Back in 1981, I dismissed the song. The relationship with my mother was tempestuous and bitter, so when I heard the lyrics I thought, “Of course she’s slipping away. She’s her own person and you have no choice but to set her free.” My perspective was daughter-focused.

Fast forward twenty-seven years, and my perspective is mother-focused. I have a joyous relationship with my two grown daughters, and after decades of living, my reaction to the song has changed. When Streep sang these lyrics…

What happened to the wonderful adventures
The places I had planned for us to go
(Slipping through my fingers all the time)
Well, some of that we did but most we didn’t
And why I just don’t know …it struck a chord of regret. There were so many “wonderful adventures” I had planned to share with my daughters, but time and childhood passed and we didn’t do them. Rather than regret, I should be pleased and warmed by the memories of all the marvelous adventures we did share, but it is this issue of time passing, of not being able to go back and add a finishing touch to the past, that brings a sense of loss and helplessness because change is shutting the door with the hard, cruel thud of forever.

How remarkable, my contradictory reactions to the same song, all due to my life experiences and changing perspectives. I will remember this when my novels deeply touch some people, but not others. It could be an issue of timing.

How marvelous that songwriters Bjoorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson captured that feeling in their lyrics. It inspires me to articulate such passions in my own prose.

A final note about Mama Mia — if my reflections here lead you to believe it’s a sad movie, it certainly is not.  Like life, there’s a little angst here and there, but the movie’s bursting with joy and laugh-out-loud fun.  So now I’m going to march right back to living, and quit with the mourning losses before they occur. Life’s too short, too glorious. If you don’t believe me, go see Mama Mia!




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