One of my very favorite specific topics that some country music songs are about is being thankful in retrospect for things that didn’t happen. In particular, things that at one point the singer/ narrator very much wanted to happen. A couple fantastic songs are great examples:
Garth Brooks’ “Unanswered Prayers” – Garth recounts how he wanted, and would pray every night, to spend his life with a particular woman, but then upon running into the woman years later realizing that despite those feelings at the time he was very much meant to be with his wife and not that other woman concluding “I guess the Lord knows what he’s doin’ after all” and reflecting: “sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers” and “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”.
Darius Rucker’s “This” – Hootie goes through a number of these unanswered prayers: the girl that turned him down in high school, the college he wanted to attend until he got a rejection letter, his mother passing away and many other “misses”:
For every stoplight I didn’t make / every chance I did or I didn’t take
all the nights I went too far / all the girls that broke my heart
all the doors that I had to close / all the things I knew but I didn’t know
Thank God for all I missed / cause it led me here to This
It’s not a celebration of these things specifically but a recognition in retrospect that “nothing’s a mistake” and “it all makes perfect sense” because everything led to up to the great life (in this case, baby sleeping, wife laughing in his arms, rain on the rooftop and the football game about to start) he has now.
Walt Wilkins’ “Trains I Missed” – Wilkins similarly goes through loves lost, bridges burned, rivers never crossed, roads not taken, maps not read, attempts to get away from God and other hard times. And at the end of song Wilkins reflects that “the hell and the hurt” led him to finding his way and celebrates the good things in life “and the moments I find myself right where I’m supposed to be”, toasting the trains he missed.
I really like this topic. These songs have the character of the “everything happens for a reason” reflection and thanking God figures prominently into each song. (What beautiful lyrics: “just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care / some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”). They serve as a nice “take it easy” reminder that the stoplight turning to red right in front of you isn’t what’s important – or a big deal. Everyone’s had life experiences that didn’t turn out the way you hoped at the time, which is why hard times is one of the essential 9 Categories of Country Music. Maybe, like Garth, it was someone you would have done anything for, who you loved and prayed that God would let you spend the rest of your life with but that you didn’t end up with for one reason or another. Or any other unanswered prayer or metaphorical missed train. We can all consider our own life experiences in the context of Garth’s prayers, Hootie’s winding road and Wilkins’ litany of missteps and empathize with those singers, or even graft our own life experiences on to their words and melodies and hear the song as if it were written about us. Songs like this turn the hard time on its head by celebrating all those even better things that never would have happened but for that hard time, turning the initial sadness into wonderful optimism.