Scottish hymnodist and poet Henry Francis Lyte is most known for writing the words to the hymn “Abide with me” shortly before his death from tuberculous in 1847. In early 2016, Ben Kyle, the Belfast-born architect and frontman in the Americana band Romantica, found himself pondering the message of this age-old hymn. That’s when Kyle began his struggle with the neurological and immune implications of Lyme disease.
During the worse of it, this father of five who now calls Minnesota home, remembers waking up in the morning and trying to pry the names of his children from the grip of his Lyme addled brain.
“There were days I’d lay in bed trying to remember how many kids I had, and what their names were,” Kyle recalls.
The neurological effects of Lyme Disease can manifest in diverse ways. In Kyle’s case, the disease impaired some of his cognitive abilities.
“It was an intensive struggle,” he says. “This sounds strange to say, but we don’t often think about thinking until we need to,” he says. “Some mornings there was nothing in my head. Nothing at all. And that was scary.”
The disease flared up at the worst moment imaginable.
While Kyle released a critically acclaimed solo album in 2012, Romantica was on hiatus for several years. In 2017, Romantica, however, issued their long-anticipated album Shadowlands. The record hit the market even as Kyle was groping through his Shadowlands.
“I had no creative capacity. I didn’t have any imagination for a while,” he says. “I lost joy.”
Kyle concedes, however, that music provided a “saving grace” during the struggle. Like the old hymn says, Abide with Me. And that’s what he says he learned to do.
“The muscle and cellular memory in playing music helped in the healing, “he says. “But being a person of faith, I prayed for hope…for a way out. There were times when I heard words being spoken to me…words like ‘don’t be afraid’ and ‘press on’ or I’m with you.’ Those were the things I held onto, and they carried me through even when I thought that there was no (foreseeable) end.”
Kyle even found himself providing vocals on Sara Groves stirring version the song, which was released on 2017. “This hymn,” Kyle confesses, “has been particularly important to me through the journey.”
“At first, I thought there was no way I could (work with Sara on the song). But there something in me saying, ‘you must have the trust, the belief, the faith that you are going to get better.’ And here I am.”
In 2018, Romantica unveiled Romantic Outlaws, an album of outtakes from the band’s catalog.
Kyle and the band plan to return to a studio in the Frio River Valley of Texas to record more material later this year.
“I’m inspired. I’m feeling the juices…and the joy flowing again. It feels like it is going to be even more powerful than before.”
Tom Darin Liskey is Features Editor for Literary Life