As children we are devastated when we hear the word no. As adults, we are far less likely to hold our breath in the middle of the toy department of a store; certainly less likely to throw a visible tantrum, we still grit our teeth and abandon logic when stuck in gridlocked traffic - we resist the notion that we can't move when we want to, that anything might prevent us from having what we want... when we want it.
There has, for most of us, always been some dreadful finality to the word no. It is an implosive word. It is a definitive word. It is a word that irrevocably shuts a door, bars entry and pushes us back to a new starting point.
Howard Jones captured the essence of this angst in his 1986 hit "No One Is To Blame". Jones uses distinct and well-place metaphors to describe the frustration, fury and downright sadness that comes with an impossible relationship.
Notice that no blame is assessed, (hence the chorus and title), no particular reason is given. Some hurtful words, a misplaced action or overzealous re-action may contribute to the hopeless situation. Whatever the circumstance, the echos of a slamming door become all too pervasive in the landscape of failed relationships.
Jones doesn't waste time setting the mood and bringing us into his world. The first chorus plunges us immediately into the tense and precarious footing of those who are in an impossible situation:
You can look at the menu but you just can't eat
You can feel the cushions but you can't have a seat
You can dip your foot in the pool but you can't have a swim
You can feel the punishment but you can't commit the sin
We are treated to the immediate helpless sensation of careening headlong into a glass wall. We can see our destination as clearly as one might see a highway exit in the distance while sitting in deadlocked traffic. We see the answer but not the question.
Jones pushes further into the destitute mural with the chorus:
And you want her, and she wants you
We want everyone
And you want her, and she wants you
No one, no one, no one ever is to blame
It seems that, though no one is at fault, the impossible cannot be made possible. The situation is hopeless - there is no way to make it work.
I can sense your head nodding. Yes, you've been there - beyond the pitiful cries of "we can make it work" there simply is no way to mold the situation into a satisfactory outcome. It is, at that awful moment of realization, over.
Over. Finished. Ended.
There's that word again: No.
Tragically, the word no is a complete sentence...
The second verse, like the first, is laced with metaphor. We are gently nudged from hopeless to desperate:
You can build a mansion but you just can't live in
You're the fastest runner but you're not allowed to win
Some break the rules and live to count the cost
The insecurity is the thing that won't get lost
We continue to see that argument is fruitless. Logic becomes folly. Though "Some break the rules and live to count the cost", we are not one of those lucky few who push our way into fulfilling our own wants and needs to escape unscathed. For we, the audience, "The insecurity is the thing that won't get lost", that is, our attempts to get what we want at any cost only leaves us with a gnawing and looming insecurity.
How many times, in the throws of a failed relationship, have cries of "Why?" gone unanswered? We stare into nothingness and try unsuccessfully to find an answer that doesn't exist.
The final verse wraps up the desperate, pain-laced pleas of the lovelorn:
You can see the summit but you can't reach it
It's the last piece of the puzzle but you just can't make it fit
Doctor says you're cured but you still feel the pain
Aspirations in the clouds but your hopes go down the drain
Analogies continue to flow - an outstanding description of the frantic, dark void of loneliness. Jones continues to present us with an examination of things seen but denied - of things just out of reach - of things that, no matter how much we may want them, we cannot have. He finishes the final verse with a significant, definitive line describing an abandonment of all hope, despite high aspirations for happiness.
The chorus is repeated to end the song, perhaps to remind us that, no matter how we might like to point fingers and lay blame, there simply is no culprit. Sometimes the answer is simply no. No reasoning. Not because it's the best thing. The world isn't conspiring against us.
How many adults, most of us among them, have a hard time with an impossible situation? I count myself among them. I fulminate against the machinations that conspire against my getting what I want. I throw the adult tantrum of silence and despondency. I waste my most valued commodity, i.e. time, with acrimony. Only through the lens of days, weeks and months do I see that some things simply can't work - and that I am not always given the answer.
There is always this: more often than not things work out for no apparent reason. Quite often the answer is yes. Many times we are rewarded for simply being on this planet... paid for work never expected.
In desperate times we are tempted to throw our hands in the air, screaming "Why?" into the night sky. We seek an answer to a nonsensical enigma. We, without forethought, waste our most precious recourse; our time. Time may not 'heal all wounds', but it does give us a perspective on outcomes. Time, our only ally against the impossible, is the lifeline, the opportunity to do the one thing we can do...
If you find yourself staring into a hall of mirrors marked senselessly with the word no, take a moment and breathe. If you can do that, you'll know you're alive. Being alive means you still have the mechanism of time - the prospect of the future.
Smile... the future is always bright.