And the compass turns to nowhere you know well

Let your soul be your pilot, let your soul guide you, he’ll guide you well.

I’ve loved this Sting song for as long as I can remember. It’s on the 1996 album Mercury Falling. Another favourite from the album is titled ‘The Hounds of Winter’ and although I’m not superstitious, a black dog followed me during 1996.  Just as the old wives tales suggest the dog turned out to be a bad omen.

We had a number of close calls with my Mother in ’96. Her fight with cancer was ongoing and the disease had changed from controlled to out of control very rapidly.   She was a woman of courage and great conviction so in spite of the traumas inflicted by her cancer treatment (there were many and they were all foul) she never once complained.  We all believed that she would turn things around, she was so unwavering and determined.  We, the other members of the family, pulled on our riot gear; we had to be tough too.  We weren’t prepared to let cancer loot from her so we stood poised against every onslaught.

I was working full-time in a responsible role, had been promoted that year and was leading a once in a lifetime project for the whole company.  My son was 3 years old, a bonny bundle of smiles, hugs and laughter.  I worked hard and relentlessly packed as much into every non-working minute as was humanly possible.  When I eventually went to bed at night I was always exhausted. I wanted to slip into dreams of butterflies and sand castles, leisurely walks and sunny skies.  Most of that year my dreams included the black dog.

I remember having nightmares as a young child, graphic, disturbing nightmares that threatened the lives of my entire family and made me physically sick. The ’96 black dog episode wasn’t a nightmare and the dog didn’t scare me.  It just padded silently and stealthily into all my dreams. It was a nondescript animal – a dog of no special type except it’s blackness and unlike friendly dogs it maintained a respectful distance throughout. In dreams it never approached me and I never moved towards it.  If I changed position in the dream or  passed through one dream into another the dog followed me along there too. Pad, pad, pad a few paces behind or off to the side, head lowered and eyes downcast. The dog rarely looked straight at me but when it did there was no malice,  it was just a cold, joyless dog devoid of compassion or emotion. Matt-black nothingness.

In December ’96 my Mother died. It was a deeply traumatic experience resulting from something akin to a comedy of errors without the comedy. We, the family, were overcome by the riot. Broken, beaten, bleeding.  Shortly afterwards I would walk from my house to my Father’s to offer respite and solace in my shattered childhood home. Looking back and in reality there was pitifully little I could offer.  For several weeks as I drifted my way back to my own house through winter’s mustiness I encountered the black dog.   In the lane that cut between houses to shorten my walk I met that dog nine times.  I wasn’t dreaming.

It was a mongrel, average build and jet black all over.  No collar, no distinguishing features. It appeared from nowhere and scared the bejesus out of me.  The dog followed me just like the dog I’d dreamt of all year. Along the path between the houses, pad, pad, pad always a few steps behind me or off to the side.  One time a passer-by even remarked ‘good dog’ as if the thing belonged to me.  I thought that if I dawdled in the lane the dog might come forward and attack me. I took to marching through the lane.  The dog seemed to appear from nowhere but it never once followed me onto the main road. I looked back after crossing the traffic; it would stand and stare. I kept walking and looked round from a position some way further down the road –  it was always gone. When December ’96 was over, I never saw or dreamt the black dog again.

My mood remained dark for a long time. I feigned orderly and adjusted, dusted myself off and carried on with everything. Pretend normal. But the compass had turned to nowhere I knew well. It took a good deal of time and I made many failed attempts but eventually my soul was my pilot. It guided the way out of the darkness. Nothing else could.

When you’re down and they’re counting
When your secrets all found out
When your troubles take to mounting
When the map you have leads you to doubt
When there’s no information
And the compass turns to nowhere that you know well

Let your soul be your pilot
Let your soul guide you
He’ll guide you well

When the doctors failed to heal you
When no medicine chest can make you well
When no counsel leads to comfort
When there are no more lies they can tell
No more useless information
And the compass spins
The compass spins between heaven and hell

Let your soul be your pilot
Let your soul guide you
He’ll guide you well

And your eyes turn towards the window pane
To the lights upon the hill
The distance seems so strange to you now
And the dark room seems so still

Let your pain be my sorrow
Let your tears be my tears too
Let your courage be my model
That the north you find will be true
When there’s no information
And the compass turns to nowhere that you know well

Let your soul be your pilot
Let your soul guide you
Let your soul guide you
Let your soul guide you upon your way…


3 thoughts on “And the compass turns to nowhere you know well

  1. All our hopes, dreams and wishes came to an abrupt end in December 1996. As a family we had been followed by the ‘black dog’ for several years. The one saving grace was that your mother had the love and encouragement of her children and that she had known and loved her Grandson. She too loved Stings music and the Mercury Falling album.


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