41*

I was driving home late a few weeks ago after a very long day, so I decided to put in my U2 “Live at Red Rocks” CD so that I could sing along with it in order to help me keep my eyes on the road. As I pulled into my driveway and was about to turn off the car, I heard the familiar and eerily subtle beginning of “40” as Bono said to the crowd, “This is forty, sing this with me.”

I put my head back against the head rest, turned the volume all the way up, closed my eyes and started singing along with the CD. In an instant I was transformed back to a concert hall two decades ago when I was standing in the crowd while U2 performed “40” right in front of me. Twenty thousand people of different races, creeds, religions, political backgrounds and various other ideologies came together as one voice to sing the chorus with Bono:

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long, how long, how long
How long, to sing this song?

We sang as loud as we could and as the band on the stage had settled into the mellow, soft drum beat, we sang louder. We came together as a community around this one anthem singing loudly back to the stage. As the house lights came up and we filed out into the city streets, twenty thousand strong kept singing the chorus to “40” in unison over and over again. It was electric. The goose bumps ran up and down my spine as we all headed off singing in various directions, consumed by our new marching orders, as we spread the word that the time for hatred and intolerance in the world had come to an end.

As I sat in my car and listened to that song again and again, I remembered that evening. I reminisced about how that evening was supposed to be the start of our chance to change the world around us. We were supposed to take that energy and that sense of community and we were supposed to use our newfound enthusiasm to make a difference in the world; but when the sun came up the next morning, we all seemed to ease back into our own separate lives and everything returned to business as usual.

That’s the way it is with concerts, sporting events and theatrical events. We all come together as one voice and rally around our chosen band, an anthem, our home town team or a performance. Regardless of race, creed, religion or political background, we come together as a community of one and we revel in our success and we console each other with every failure, and then we go back home to our separate lives. Back to the places where our neighbors remain as distant as the stars in the evening sky and the problems of the world don’t affect us unless they find a way to knock on our individual doorsteps.

As I sat there in the front seat of my car listening to “40”, I thought about the next door neighbor I had when I was a kid; an elderly gentleman who took me under his wing because I didn’t have a grandfather. My grandfather’s had passed away before I was ten so Mr. Belward would spend time with me and talk to me about those things a grandfather should impress upon a grandson.

Mr. B. explained to me about my responsibilities in this world. He conveyed to me that it was important to leave a place better than the way I had found it. He taught me to treat every man, woman, and child I encountered in my life with dignity and respect. He made it clear to me that all people were created equal but most importantly, he told me about the world he grew up in. A place where neighbors knew each other, neighbors shared and cared for one another and believe it or not, everyone was involved in everything that happened in the community. Community spirit wasn’t just a slogan to our grandparents, it was something that they lived and breathed every day of their lives. Neighbors relied on one another and in time, the people on your block or street were as much a part of your family as your blood relatives. Mr. B. enlightened me to the fact that only people had the ability to change the world through hard work, understanding and true compassion.

As the song faded out for the umpteenth time, I opened my eyes, leaned forward and turned off the ignition. I opened the door to my vehicle, got out and slammed the car door shut and as I turned to walk into the house, I remembered something else that happened that night.

I came back from that U2 concert on a euphoric high and when I arrived at my dorm room, I borrowed a friend’s guitar and very poorly tried to bang out the basic notes to “40” while composing my own song that had been inspired by U2 that night. As I went inside the house, I laughed at how young and naïve I once was but I was also proud that I have tried to change my little corner of the world in my personal life and in my professional career. I had taken my marching orders from that concert out into the world and I have made a difference.

Two weeks ago, while I was looking for some papers in my filing cabinet, I came across an old manila folder. It was filled with mementos and keepsakes, so I opened it and started to look at some of the items from my past. As I was taking a walk down memory lane, a folded piece of paper fell from the back of the file and quickly hit the floor. I leaned over, picked up the piece of paper, and I unfolded the yellowing sheet. I read it and was in shock at what I had found. It was that song I had written the night of the U2 concert almost two decades ago.

With all apologies to U2 (I used the tune for “40” and the chorus to pen the words to my own song), I have included the words to “41*” below: (if you know the tune to “40,” feel free to sing along)

41*

Built my life upon a rock
Let my spirit free
Someone looked inside my head
And said that I’m not me

A choir of Angels appeared to me
And opened up my eyes
Told me about the way life is
So I’d avoid the lies

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long, how long, how long
How long, to sing this song?

Dr. King made pilgrimages
To let our voices sing
Even though he had a dream
When will freedom ring?

Men and women of every race
Standing side by side
Trying hard to abolish it
Will this hatred ever die?

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long, how long, how long
How long, to sing this song

(* inspired by U2’s “40”, click here)

As I thought about the words I wrote two decades ago and about how to compare them to the world we live in today, I was both happy and sad at the same time. I have seen change over the past twenty years. I have seen people take strides to undo the injustices of our past, but I have also seen people create new challenges and create new injustices that will need to be undone as we move forward. But most of all, that old lyric from the back of my folder reminded me of the hope and belief that I have in our future.

Mr. B. taught me about responsibility, dignity, diversity, equality, understanding and compassion. I, along with my father, have been teaching these principles to my children. My wife and I have shared these principles with the people we have worked with in our careers. As I thought about it further, I realized that more and more people are teaching these values in their homes, their churches, their schools and their communities.

We live in a country that truly is a great “melting pot” of all of the nations of the world and as each day passes, we all have begun to embrace that diversity and acceptance that makes a stronger as a nation. I believe a day will come when we excommunicate the intolerance and the hatred that exists in the world around us and replace it with the virtues and principles that can only exist in a free and accepting society. I truly believe a day will come when it will happen but until that day becomes a reality, I am haunted by that subtle, yet eerie anthem that grips my spirit and asks that soul searching question, “How long, how long, to sing this song?”

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1 Response to 41*

  1. Andie Gruber says:

    This piece really spoke to me. Perhaps because I have sung along at a U2 concert (and many concerts in my car). Perhaps because my high school had us take the Ephebic Oath, which stated we would leave our city “not only not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.” What an amazing concept.

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