the forelife


As Halloween and Day of the Dead approach, I am surrounded by familiar, sometimes strangely playful, imagery of the afterlife. Ghosts, talking skeletons, and zombies adorn front porches and in-store displays. The season’s horror films, books, and series promote a variety of entertaining speculations about what happens after death, all in the name of fun. Somehow this fact of death, one that usually causes discomfort, is okay to revel in while it’s in season. And the rest of the year, when it gets existentially uncomfortable, we have religions, each offering their own comforting take on the afterlife.

But there are far fewer stories about what happens before birth, which is every bit as mysterious and intriguing as the death question. There just isn’t the same emphasis or cultural depiction of “the forelife.” We are not haunted by the souls of those yet to be born. There are no film or literary genres devoted to this unknown territory. Aside from the religions who feature reincarnation, the world of pre-existence is ignored.

So, when I was trying to figure out how to write a song about my firstborn son without sounding horrifically Hallmark, I thought I might speculate about his forelife, specifically his journey from the great where-ever to his parents.


I first considered this concept when we knew a baby was on the way. After hearing the heartbeat, I was struck, like many soon-to-be dads, with the strangeness of having the power to create a moving and, one day, self-conscious entity — from nothing. Along the way, I met someone from a nontraditional spiritual community who told me he was not coming from nothing. In fact, she had a vision of him with his great great grandmother awaiting his entry into the visible world. I liked the idea of him spending time with the grandmother he would never meet in the physical world, and I was intrigued by idea that the forelife and the afterlife were the same place.


It is that image of my son with his great great grandmother that begins the story of his journey from the forelife to this sliver of space and time. The lyrics tell the rest of the story.

Great grandmother waved as you swam away

trying to get to the soft glowing light

We all gathered round on the other side

singing your name all through the night.

Now we’ve given love a name

A little river runs through me

Oh, how strange it is to be here.

When you reached the light, you were thrown into time

for a while until the return.

We looked in your face and saw all those who came

and left before you arrived.


Now we’ve given love a name

A little river runs through me

Oh, how strange it is to be here.

When the stars look down on me,

I am not the way I seem.

A river running under everything.

If you’re quiet sometimes you can hear it rushing.

Now we’ve given love a name

A little river runs through me

Oh, how strange it is to be.

A river under everything

Oh, how strange it is to be here.



The guitar chords were written during my son’s first year while he bounced away in his baby seat. He really liked this driving chord progression, especially when accompanied by my stomping foot on the hardwood floor, so I included that, too. This song is now available as a single on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, and most major online music vendors. The album cover and photos are from a narrative series, taken by photographer Sarah Featherstone, depicting his journey. As for the song’s title, Little River, the river is a common symbol of the journey between worlds, from the River Styx to the River Jordan to the Ganges. Along with this symbolism, the title also combines two translations, Gaelic and Arabic, of my son’s name.

That’s the story. Here’s a song.