Nancy Challies, A Diamond in the Rough


It seems so long ago,
Nancy was alone,
looking ate the Late Late show
through a semi-precious stone.
In the House of Honesty
her father was on trial,
in the House of Mystery
there was no one at all,
there was no one at all.

A quick listen to “It Seems So Long Ago Nancy”, by Canadian singer/song writer Leonard Cohen, may not leave much of an impression on the average listener, except to observe that it is quite a sober and mournful song. The title alone may seem pretty standard…a song about a girl-SO?! With so many similar song titles dedicated to unknown women, such as “Carolyn”, “Anna’s Song” and “Rosanne”, what raises this song above the rest? It’s time to find out and in the process, to find Nancy.


It seems so long ago,
none of us were strong;
Nancy wore green stockings
and she slept with everyone.
She never said she’d wait for us
although she was alone,
I think she fell in love for us
in nineteen sixty one,
in nineteen sixty one.

To begin, Cohen himself left no doubt that Nancy was more than just a type name. It was during a concert in Frankfurt, in 1972 that Cohen introduced “Nancy” to the audience, saying, “This is a song for a girl named Nancy who was a real girl, who went into the bathroom of her father’s house, took her brother’s shotgun and blew her head off. Age of 21. Maybe this is an arrogant thing to say, but maybe she did it because there weren’t enough people saying what I’ve been saying.” For an audience in Birmingham, he began by stating, “I’d like to sing a song for a most beautiful blonde woman who died in 1961, in Montreal.”


It seems so long ago,
Nancy was alone,
a forty five beside her head,
an open telephone.
We told her she was beautiful,
we told her she was free
but none of us would meet her in
the House of Mystery,
the House of Mystery.

As much information as Cohen disclosed, as much as he obviously felt an emotional connection to this girl and her tragic death, he did not, could not mention a many poignant details. Nancy Challies was born the second of four children to my late grandparents, George and Ethel Challies, older sister to my father, John Challies, mother to a son adopted at infancy, long lost aunt to a new generation that would have loved to know her, our “Aunt Nancy.” I really fills me with a sense of loss to know that I never had the honor of knowing a girl who, for all her deep troubles and scars, knew that the life she was living was a vaccuous illusion…oh, if only her beautiful face had known the light and life of Christ and his life-giving grace and redemption!

On a philisophical level, it is difficult to look at the short lived life of Nancy Challies and see hope. She died by suicide. She had been seriously depressed for many years and in her own words, unable eventually to see color with the exception of black. She gave her child up to adoption immediately after his birth, never to see him again. More importantly, she was an utterly lost soul, a sixties flower child who fell prey to the disallusionment of life with out answers in an existential, post -God culture. Though she has past to the ages, she still lives on in the mouth and nose of my older brother, the profile of my little sister, the entire face of my ruggedly handsome father, my eyes and for good and ill, my bouts with depression, stemming from an ever present realization that there has to be more to this life than the bleak void that it can so easily resemble. Thankfully, I have been saved, saved by the utter miracle of the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ that sheds unending rays of hope and answer upon answer to the deepest longings and questions of the heart but confusion can still persist. I believe we are all filled with a deep sense of disallusionment at times in this life, whether Christian or not. Some of us build a imprenitable fortress, some of us flee to refuge…for Nancy, neither of these was an option for she was too honest with herself to hide, too disallusioned with the refuges she had sought previously, and sadly too quick to assume that she had exhausted every avenue.

And now you look around you,
see her everywhere,
many use her body,
many comb her hair.
In the hollow of the night
when you are cold and numb
you hear her talking freely then,
she’s happy that you’ve come,
she’s happy that you’ve come.

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2 Responses to Nancy Challies, A Diamond in the Rough

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Susana, Happy to see that your family is growing. This is your friend Carla Basantes from Kennesaw State University cross country team. Remember those days?I am in Argentina rightnow, studying my Master degree, but I always remember you, as one of my best friends. Thank you for all the support and friendship, you were very meaningful in my life. Thank you and God bless you.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Susana, Happy to see that your family is growing. This is your friend Carla Basantes from Kennesaw State University cross country team. Remember those days?I am in Argentina rightnow, studying my Master degree, but I always remember you, as one of my best friends. Thank you for all the support and friendship, you were very meaningful in my life. Thank you and God bless you.My email is karlibasantes@hotmail.com, I would love to hear from you.

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