Don’t Get Caught Hanging Your Head

It’s one of the most beautiful and haunting songs ever recorded. The version written and recorded by Sting is pretty good, but the Johnny Cash version? It’s like he was meant to put that track down.

The song is “I Hung My Head.” It’s the tragic story of a boy who steals his brother’s rifle, and playing cowboy, shoots a man riding by. The horror of what he’s done is almost incomprehensible—he thinks it’s a dream—but unfortunately it’s not. As the lyrics go,

The sheriff he asked me

Why had I run

And then it come to me

Just what I had done

And all for no reason

Just one piece of lead

I hung my head

I hung my head

That refrain—I hung my head, *I hung my head—*repeats through the song up until the boy is executed for his crime. It’s worth listening to these days not just because guns are no plaything, but because it captures the stakes of this parenting thing we’re doing. An accident, a mistake—no matter the intention, no matter how sweet the child or living the parent—can irrevocably change a life. A kid playing with a gun. A father who leaves a pool gate open. A mother who forgoes the car seat because it’s a short trip, the teenager taking risks with their friends.

In an instant, everything can be blown apart. One choice. One bad call. One shortcut. And all you’ll be able to do after? Hang your head. Hang your head.

To say this is not to scare you. It’s not to scare your kids. But it is to remind you of the stakes. Life is not a dream. There are no do-overs. What’s done cannot be undone. You need to know this, whether you’re 41 or 14. Whether you’re a kid or a grandparent. You can’t ever forget it.

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