Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” may not feel right at this time. But for Patty Limerick, who heard the song after she lost her husband in 2005, it offers a vision of hope.

In the category of performers to whom I am endlessly grateful, no one outranks the reggae artist Johnny Nash, who died on October 6, 2020.

In January of 2005, my husband Jeff Limerick underwent episodes of disrupted vision. Since he had suffered a major stroke eight years earlier, the doctor decided to admit him to the hospital for observation. Once he was settled in, Jeff dispatched me to pick up a few things for him at home.

On a cold night, I went to the parking lot, got in my car, and turned on the oldies station. At the far reaches of irony, Johnny Nash was playing:

 

I can see clearly now;
The rain has gone.
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind,
It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day.

 

Soon after I returned to the hospital, Jeff was stricken with respiratory failure. Unconscious by midnight, he died the next day. Those episodes of faltering vision had been symptoms of a clot starting to cut off the flow of blood in his basilar artery, retreating, and then returning.

“Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind” is not an affirmation of faith that a blood clot in an artery is required to respect.

After Jeff’s death, I listened to “I Can See Clearly Now” every night for months. For a long spell, listening gave me an unrestrained immersion in sorrow. And then, gradually, the words of Nash’s second verse started to reach me. Or maybe I started to reach them.

 

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone;
All of the bad feelings have disappeared.
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for,
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.

 

In this intensely personal story, I now find national significance. The circumstances of the United States today remind me of my circumstances in late January of 2005, positioned on the edge of calamity.

Look at the divisions ripping apart the United States, and Johnny Nash’s words might seem more of a mockery than an affirmation of faith. Like millions of Americans, when I contemplate the nation, I cannot see clearly now.

And yet I can offer a vision of hope that would be out of my reach if I were not a widow. Johnny Nash was not, by any means, the only person who came to my aid. After Jeff’s death, literally hundreds of people stepped forward to help me. Those throngs of Good Samaritans were far from united in their political positions, their ethnic identities, or their beliefs about the best way to reckon with the complex history of the United States. And yet, in the kindness, sympathy, and grace they offered to me, they were as united as the human species can get.

Here’s what I learned in 2005: people who disagree on everything under the sun remain capable of coming together to help a friend in trouble.

And here’s what I wait to learn in 2020: will a polarized and fragmented citizenry come together to help a nation in trouble?

All of us who are asking that question might want to give Johnny Nash a chance to come to our aid.

Patty Limerick is chair of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado.

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