Lullabies – A Universal Language

“Why are your lullabies so sad? And why are they not in English?” I asked when he finished.

He shrugged. “Because there’s a lot of sadness in the world. And people sing to their babies in all languages.”—from Abigail’s Song

My novel Abigail’s Song opens with ten-year-old Abigail singing her mother’s lullaby to her baby brother and sister on the day their mother dies, hoping they would remember her. Later, when Abigail finds herself in the hospital, she hears medical student Oli Higgins sing a lullaby in a foreign language to a dying Jewish boy. The Yiddish song seals a bond between the orphaned child and the compassionate student. Next night, he sings another song for her, to calm her to sleep while she frets about a constable taking her to the orphanage in the morning. 

The lullaby my own mother sang to me in my childhood was The Lullaby with Four Rains. I loved it because I had a small solo. My mom would say, “It’s raining, and my daughter (the original had ‘son’) is getting sleepy, but not asleep yet.” Then my part: "Mama, tell me about the rain."

My mom would sing that there are four kinds of rain: Blue, Navy, Yellow, and Gray. Long awaited spring blue rain makes the flowers bloom but departs quickly. Summer navy colors the fruit in the garden and makes plants and children grow. Autumn yellow cools down the earth and brings unhappy partings. The song left us wonder what the gray brought. Maybe ordinary rain was gray.

Then it was my part again: “Mama, is there Black Rain?”

The answer from Mama was, “Sleep, my daughter. Various rains come to people. But I believe Black Rain will not be on your path.

I wonder what was on my mother’s mind as she sang to me. At twenty-nine, she found a lump in her breast. When she sang to me, she knew she was sick. Did she anticipate that Black Rain would come no matter how much she tried to prevent it? 

Mom delayed it as long as she could, but it came when I was fourteen. In September 1994, she died after fighting for eight years. Autumn Yellow Rain brings separation like the song foretells. Multiple kinds of rain can pour at once. 

Many years later, when my daughter kicked inside me, I listened to a recording of Yiddish lullabies by Kitka. These melodies tugged on my heartstrings and connected me to all Jewish mothers singing to their babies. My daughter would be named Elanna, similar my mother’s name, Yelena. The circle of life would start again. 

By age four, my daughter knew The Lullaby with Four Rains and enjoyed her solo. But when I sang to her, my stomach clenched. Will she meet Black Rain? Or will my love protect her from it?

For Abigail, her mother’s lullaby aided her in unexpected ways. Maybe her mother guided her from beyond the grave. Maybe my own mom whispered to me as I wrote my novel. Mother’s love is more powerful than death. 

I’ve lived on after my losing my mother and built a family of my own. My daughter is headstrong and bold, with wisdom beyond her years. I see her grow into a spirited young woman, and the Black Rain is no longer black.