Notes on Our Endless Numbered Days
Our Endless Numbered Days is my favorite album by Iron & Wine. The title of the album conjures up a recognizable truth about life and strikes me as poetic without being cloying. I like thinking that the album title expresses a simple truth, that life stretches out in front of each human in a seeming infinity of days but in reality the lives of humans are numbered. I would compare the idea to the feeling of summer in youth; the hot, languid days spent with friends seem never-ending while the cool nights just drift by. When I was young, the two months between the end of a year and the start of another school year seemed ripe with possibilities and joy. In summer really anything could be done or accomplished. Yet, the days of bike-riding, popsicles, and grass stains always ended too quickly.
I associate my disappointment of the finite character of summer with the idea behind the title. Life is not too far from those summer days. One by one the days roll into the past and death is just an abstract idea. No, we believe our lives are infinite and everlasting. Our days are full of busy errands, love, and work. We know that life will end but we don’t believe it. No, we will live forever. How can life end when we are occupying our time with those we love, driving to work, and watching the sunset and waiting for a new one to rise? The title is a little sad because it stresses that we understand that our lives are numbered even in their seemingly infinity, but it is also very happy. If I may borrow from Robin Williams, “Carpe Diem!” Our sun is quickly setting! Why not make the best of the time we have? Oh, there is such joy in our endless numbered days.
I really like the album cover as well (Sam Beam painted both sides) and I think the front and the back really reinforce the themes of the album; love and death. On the front, Sam is pictured lying in the grass, which conjures the thought of a pleasant day in the sun like we all used to do as children, but on the back he is absent and the only mark to his presence on the grass is the impression his body made. The cover artwork expresses the clichéd phrase of “here today and gone tomorrow.” As simple as its message is, I like it. I like the realization that we exist to soak up the sun, lay on the grass, and maybe take a picnic with loved ones. I like the idea of the endless day in the sun and in the next day we can just be an impression on pressed down grass. One day we can be so alive with life, jumping, laughing, smiling, and the next we can just be a memory, just an impression on grass. At first thought, that seems a little sinister and negative. Is there a purpose if we will just end up impressions on the grass, smoothed away by the coming hour to have the grass spring up and by the next time a picnicker comes along they will never know I laid there? Is there a purpose to life if I can be once prohibited to make any more impressions? Especially if those impressions are purely material? In other words, everything we do physically changes and is erased; everything we do in the material realm is just like lying on that grass.
Coming to grips with our mortality, with our endless numbered days, is difficult but Sam suggests that maybe we can make a difference; we can leave more than an impression in the grass. If you noticed, I said the themes of the album were death and love. Indeed, love is the ability to transcend death and have a continuous impression when the physical impression fades away. Although we may be here and lying on the grass on day and gone the next, if we love the people around us, we will always be remembered and our impression will never fade.
Sam sings that if you love others and care for them then you will never be forgotten. Sam suggests that love can conquer death and that the memory of a person lasts far beyond the physical form.