When Canadian band Rush’s drummer and songwriter Neil Peart died Jan. 7, our house heaved.
To offer a glimpse of my guitar-playing husband’s devotion, our first two pets – “Alex,” a yellow cat, and “Geddy,” a black cat – were named as a tribute to Rush’s blonde guitarist and dark-haired lead singer and bassist. We completed the trio by designating a cat statue near our fireplace “Neil.”
In April 1988, we attended our first Rush concert together, “Hold Your Fire,” an experience I detailed in a college music-theory paper. I was quickly drawn in, as much by the music as the lyrical cadences Peart pensively penned.
But at times, the words also troubled me. In “Roll the Bones,” Peart asks, and answers: “Why are we here? Because we’re here. Roll the bones.” We’re just arbitrary outcomes, he was suggesting, not God’s purposeful choices. The rest of the lyrics are much more poignant, but these sum up the self-admitting, non-religious mindset of the group.
The night we learned of Peart’s death from brain cancer, our family’s dinner conversation became a lamentation. Gently, I broached the question: Given his dismissiveness of God, did Peart reach the Pearly Gates?
We can’t know, but we can hope. My faith tradition’s practice of praying for the dead gives us one way. We believe our prayers for loved ones can be efficacious, even after death. God, who transcends space and time, alone knows the interior journey of each soul, including those who, for various reasons, didn’t embrace God’s existence in this life.
In a documentary on the band we watched together later that evening, we remembered the triumphs and tribulations the group experienced and endured. But as Peart, who’d tragically just lost his first wife and daughter, trekked cross-country on his motorcycle to heal, he seemed unable to pinpoint the divine hand in this restorative process.
And when the band talked about their emotional backstage embrace before the concert that launched their comeback after that dark time, realizing the “impossibility” of that moment, I couldn’t help but wonder if they recognized God’s grace, which makes the impossible possible.
We can only see what we can see, however, and I believe we’ll be surprised at the guest list of the eternal gathering in heaven. I’m hoping I’ll be on it, along with those I love. Certainly, my own life is the only one for which I’m fully culpable. But stories like Rush’s leave me restless. Theirs is an inspiring tale of grit and talent, of overcoming hard pasts and enlivening the lives of many. And while I appreciate their musical talent and energy, I worry at witnessing their worldly success without a nod to God, who brings all blessing.
I don’t believe our lives are randomly calculated like a roll of the dice. But God is merciful, and if there’s a musical show in heaven needing a drummer, it’s possible that, in God’s providence, Peart’s bones will not just roll, but rise. I pray that it might be so.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Feb. 16, 2020.]