I refereed high school basketball games while attending the University of North Alabama (UNA) in the mid-1970s to help pay my way through school. Rogers High School, just north of Florence, didn’t have the best basketball teams, but it was always a good environment to call games. I also played baseball at UNA with two friends from Rogers High School. My experience seeing different communities where I refereed basketball (and visiting my friends) led me to know something about the community of Greenhill, Alabama.
That brings me to Jason Isbell, one of my favorite musicians. Despite my leaving Florence three years before Jason was born, I was first drawn to his music because I learned he was from Greenhill and attended Rogers High School. After that, I found I liked his music and the meaning and depth of his lyrics.
One of his better songs, in my opinion, is Relatively Easy, which has a strong melody and meaningful lyrics. The refrain changes slightly after different verses in the song, but imparts the same message:
You should know compared
To people on a global scale
Our kind have had it relatively easy
And here with you there’s always
Something to look forward to
Our angry heart beats relatively easy
Still compared to those
A stone’s throw away from you
Our lives have both been relatively easy
Take a year and make a break
There ain’t that much at stake
The answers could be relatively easy
By the time you read this I pray the war between Russia and Ukraine will be over and, at minimum, a troubled peace will prevail over the earth. Few of us have faced adversity as Ukrainian people have over the past six weeks. Can you imagine one day working, shopping, watching movies, eating in restaurants, taking children to school, and otherwise living your day-to-day life and the next day your home destroyed by missiles, loved ones killed, your children’s schools destroyed and your life wrecked? Of course you can’t, nor can any of us.
In Jason Isbell’s words, compared to Ukrainian suffering, our lives are relatively easy. Even as we are shocked and enraged watching what the Russians have done to innocent Ukrainians, our angry hearts beat relatively easy.
However, I am reminded of our people who are a stone’s throw away and closer to home. Some across the United States, and in our communities, have not had the same advantages as others. Poverty is still oppressive in some parts of Alabama and Florida. We need to work together to help improve education in our states, build a greater rural health care system, and create better employment opportunities for our people. We face serious challenges in regards to relieving poverty issues. They must be addressed for all of us to move forward together.
So Jason Isbell’s lyrics are right – compared to those a stone’s throw away, our lives have been relatively easy. It is our responsibility to improve the standard of living for those close to home.
We are all very fortunate to live in a free country that is strong enough to allow us not to be concerned about our homes and communities. We are fortunate our country has an effective military protecting us against threats of invasion from foreign enemies. We are blessed to know the benefits of freedom and to know this is the best place in the world to live. At least for today, our lives, families, homes, and jobs are not in jeopardy. But that doesn’t mean it will always be that way.
The Russian and Ukrainian war should put many things in perspective. Our lives have been relatively easy. We should work to ensure our country remains strong and provides us protection in our lives so we can help others.
As good as Jason Isbell’s lyrics are, I disagree with these lines: Take a year and make a break/ There ain’t that much at stake.
There is too much at stake to take a year off. We must work to find answers. But, answers to a peace between the Russians and the Ukrainians, how we cure poverty in our own communities, and how we solve other problems in the world will not be relatively easy.
I hope you have a good month.