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True Love

Authored by Connor Kirkpatrick in 2021, published posthumously by Konrad Kollnig, in memory of my best friend.

St Giles’ Cathedral looms large upon a city which, if any other, would render it an outsider. It is a 1,000 year old construction, of achingly vulnerable yet discernibly strong design. Despite its imposing presence, it is just another parish church of the Church of Scotland. John Knox said, “Live in Christ, die in Christ, and the flesh need not fear death.” Appropriately, Knox has been buried within St Giles’ for more than 500 years.

To write about Edinburgh is often to write about architecture. It is a beautiful and ancient city, the physical embodiment of a fairytale, but to emphasise its architecture for architecture’s sake is to do a disservice both to the city and the man who walks it.

We don’t love Edinburgh because it is beautiful, we love it because it reminds us of our humanity. Ancient churches, creaking museums, thousand year old staircases, pubs where once people were publicly hanged, hallways which echo the memories of the gone as much as your own footsteps, these are not merely a marvel of architecture, they are a marvel of humanity.

St Giles’ Cathedral sits midway up the Royal Mile – the street connecting Edinburgh Castle with Holyrood Palace – often voted Britain’s most beautiful street. I have walked the Royal Mile more times than I have been drunk, which as an alcoholic, from Edinburgh, is an achievement.

2015 was a year of wonder and wander for me, and one sadly lacking in much proclivity. 3 years following the mighty E Street Band across the world had come to an end, I was yet to start university, and I had no inclination to work except to be a writer. I spent many hours wandering the Royal Mile, alone, except for my pocket full of a few thousand friends.

I was 21, had terrible hair, and no discernible sense of fashion. My favourite t-shirt was a piece of art created by the late Daniel Johnston – a drawing of an alien with the words, “Hi, How Are You” written above. I wore that t-shirt everywhere from South Africa to Edinburgh, but its creator was recognised just twice. Once, by a man at an Apple Store in Paris. I latched onto this connection, until he made it clear he wanted me to call him Daddy and do to him things which would have Knox spinning in his grave.

The other recognition was on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. It was one of my life’s “I love you.” moments.

Daniel Johnston was a painfully talented, and painfully tormented, singer, songwriter, and artist. He was born in California, died in Texas, and lived in a space of his own creation – notably the hearts and minds of those he affected. Johnston was plagued by mental illness and his music reflected this – the enduring but challenged hope of light to be found in the darkness. Whether Johnston knew it by his death or not, in reaching for that light in the dark by way of his work, he created some light of his own.

It was through his light that I met my new friend on the Royal Mile.
Huddled outside St Giles’ Cathedral, a small crowd had gathered, in the dark, around a street musician, illuminated by an ancient, dull lamp. He was slim, wore a mismatch of clothes, a hat, and mittens to keep his fingers from freezing in Edinburgh’s iconic cold. If the weather was bitter and unrelenting, there was no evidence of this reflected in the sense of duty which this smiling, singing man had to his small audience.
Street musicians are common but seldom memorable. Yet I will remember this man for the rest of my life. His name was Jonny.

From his twanging guitar and his uniquely broad smile, Jonny began to sing “True Love Will Find You In The End”. It is a simple song with a simple message, one of promise that love exists and that it will find you. “This is a promise with a catch, only if you’re looking can it reach you.”
I had listened to this song a few hundred times in a few dozen countries, but for the first time it was being sung not only to me, but for me.
We stood for more than two hours as inky blue faded into deep black, the street became quieter as the pubs became louder, and Jonny’s smile maintained even as his fingers seized with the cold. Jonny and I introduced ourselves to one another, on a street a thousand years old, in the same spirit as the many men who came before, and connected by a musician neither of us had met, but both knew.

One of the great questions – why is there such an overlap between experience of pain and the creation of art? Is art created by way of making sense of pain, is its creation a therapy of its own, or is it rather a cliché most intoxicating to those who relate most to it? I am a writer, and I am also an alcoholic with major depressive disorder.
Many musicians, artists, writers, are alcoholic, mentally ill, and they create art as though their lives depend on it. Perhaps it’s because they do.

Smarter and more nuanced people than me torment themselves over this question. In the end it is more academic than pragmatic – it is not so much about what has led us to pain, but rather what we do with it, that counts.

What Daniel and Jonny did with theirs was create a light of their own, connecting me to both of them.

Sadly, both died of conditions related to their mental illness, Johnny in March 2018, Daniel in September 2019.

I have always said that as a writer I want simply to put into words how others feel but cannot themselves articulate. I do so in the hope of helping others to feel understood, and less alone. Both Daniel and Jonny did this for me, and now as I wander for the thousandth time up Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, I see the imposing St Giles’ Cathedral, I see the dwindling winter light, and I see the smile of a man who once reminded me that true love will, indeed, find you in the end.

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