Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

It didn't seem that the news could get worse, and then it did. A week that began in hope, then sagged in disbelief, ended in tears with the news that Leonard Cohen was dead at the age of 82.

If you live without the comfort of religious belief, as I do, it seemed like the universe was playing a cruel joke by removing a force of light just when the world seems so broken. But the crack, as he so memorably taught us, is how the light gets in. I put his songs on shuffle and remembered.

I really think Leonard Cohen helped save my sanity at one point. Everyone has a time in their lives when they turn to art for comfort; some people spend their whole lives in art's comforting arms, and they're the lucky ones. A sculpture, a book, a TV show – it doesn't matter. As long as it takes us out of the horror of the moment and reminds us that this, too, will pass.

Story continues below advertisement

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was living with my husband and infant son in Los Angeles. The baby was a mystery, but a beautiful one. The world, however, was a terrible, smoking mess: How had we come to this? What right did I have to bring a baby into this chaos?

Related: Five remarkable Leonard Cohen songs

Related: Closing Time: The Canadian arts community remembers Leonard Cohen

From the archives: Years of self-imposed isolation led to renaissance for Leonard Cohen

We lived thousands of miles from the Americans who suffered real trauma that day, but it still threw me into a tailspin. The baby was colicky. He cried. I cried. I put a Leonard Cohen CD on the stereo, picked him up and we started to dance. My son stopped crying. I didn't. The cat, who had an anxiety disorder and required daily doses of Valium, watched us suspiciously.

What we danced to over the next weeks and months was Leonard Cohen. It didn't matter which songs – Who By Fire; So Long, Marianne; The Gypsy's Wife – we listened to everything. He was the patron saint of envy, the grocer of despair, and he was the only thing I wanted to hear. Every lyric suddenly became portentous ("I'm guided by the beauty of our weapons"). Some lyrics seemed to have been written for us alone, at that moment, dancing in that dingy apartment: "I held you till you learn to walk on air."

The song I returned to most often was that one that begins, "Everybody knows that the dice are loaded …" The lyrics of Everybody Knows are so bitter, but set against the lush background vocals and the pretty mandolin, they seemed to perfectly encapsulate that moment, when terror stripped the achingly blue California sky of its airplanes. For a week there were no planes, and the city was deathly quiet.

Story continues below advertisement

As the months passed, I eventually stopped crying. We kept dancing, and I discovered the baby also liked Johnny Cash. My husband had interviewed Leonard Cohen a couple of weeks before 9/11, and came home raving about his kindness and generosity (and his handsome suit.) "He made me a chopped-egg sandwich," my husband said in disbelief. "Leonard Cohen made me a sandwich."

This kindness and grace is echoed by everyone who encountered him. Sarah Hampson interviewed him for this newspaper, and he gave her a sweatshirt and scarf so she'd be warm on the way home. Liam Lacey interviewed him twice, and came away with one of my favourite quotes ever. "The emergency never ends," Leonard said. "Everybody's heart gets broken. Everybody gets creamed."

Even before I heard that he had died, I was thinking about the place of art in this crazy world – to make us feel better, to remind us that things have been bad before and do not remain that way, to encourage us to fight back. Or just to help us forget the darkness for a moment or two. All week, people on social media have been sharing poems as a coping mechanism: Wendy Cope's Differences of Opinion and W.B. Yeats's The Second Coming were both popular. Perhaps poetry can shed light where polling data failed.

Andrew is a doctor I know who works at St. Michael's Hospital in downtown Toronto. He came across a patient this week who had come in through emergency, and was distressed. The man had had a hard life and was having a hard day. Andrew went home and got his copy of Zoe Whittall's Giller Prize-nominated novel The Best Kind of People, and gave it to his patient. By the time the patient was discharged, he was a quarter of the way through the book, and left with it in his hands. Andrew plans to buy another copy. Maybe he'll give that one away, too.

Words and pictures and music provide a particular solace, even in a crappy year that keeps taking away our heroes and failing to provide new ones. I've turned again to Leonard Cohen for wisdom and for the oddly heartening bleakness of his vision. We know the boat is leaking, and we know the captain lied. Maybe somebody is dancing to that right now, and finding comfort. Those are songs for the ages, and they will be here long after this madness has passed.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies