Half Life

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The YouTube video above is of a very rough recording (one take, live, just me and a guitar) of a rough draft of a song that I started writing a while ago, when a niece of mine died. It was at that point just some rough ideas, snippets of lyrics, articulated as an outlet for grief.

I didn’t pursue it further, until I saw the movie The Fault In Our Stars. That got me thinking once again about untimely deaths, cancer, transience, and oblivion.

The original idea had simply played on the fact that “half life” – which literally refers to the amount of time it takes for half of a quantity of a radioactive element to decay into a different element – is a phrase that also makes one think of “half a life” – a life cut short too soon.

As I started thinking about it again, lots of connections began to come to the fore. Radioactivity is connected with cancer. It also measures the long epochs which threaten to not merely erase the individual lives that are themselves so short, but whole civilizations, whole species, and all memory thereof.

Most of the lyrics that were very esoteric and had to do with the exploration of these atomic and geological resonances ended up being set aside. But hopefully the song still works. Today would have been my niece’s birthday, and so it seem an appropriate time to share the song. Below are the lyrics, which are also included in the YouTube video.

Half Life


You were in your prime, but time

Ran out before your time

Had fully come

And now you’re gone

A stone now marks the place

With words that time must soon efface

How will they know

That you were?


Half life

All things must change

One rock decays

And one remains

The world can never stay the same


And if a thousand years

Won’t pass before our eyes and ears

Have passed away

Will nothing stay?

It seems our sorrows last

Our tears of liquid turn to gas

Then into rain

And fall again



If the norm were two hundred years

A life of ninety would seem small

It’s better to have lived a half a life,

than not have lived at all


You were in your prime

But time ran out…



Half life

The world is strange

One heart decays

And one remains

And I will never be the same

(c) 2014 James F. McGrath


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