Outside, the sun is going down and the wind is cool and crisp; perfect for an evening jog. I load up my trusty iPod shuffle, kiss my wife on the top of her head and hit the neighborhood streets.
This run will be short, I’ve already decided. I have too much to do. Most importantly, I need to crank on the next part of my book. At least three pages worth. And since I compose, on the average, about one page an hour, I need to get a move on if I’m going to hit that goal before shuteye.
After all, the book isn’t going to write itself.
I push play. The iPod’s first song starts in the middle, because it’s the same one I ended my run with the night before and shut off mid-jam: Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart.” I’m not the world’s biggest Motley Crue fan, but that song clearly kicks ass, and gives me a great tempo to start with.
Eventually, the Crue gives way to Deep Purple’s “Hush.” Cool enough. It’s kind of fast, has a good “na-na-na” rock and roll sensibility. It works. My legs get a little heavier, but that’s no big deal. I just need to fight through the temporary fatigue, that’s all.
After about three quarters of a mile, having realized that I’m not going to stop, my legs start to rebel furiously. I have a theory, which has been proven time and again (so it might as well be fact), that the distance between three-fourths of a mile and a mile and a quarter is my biggest challenge. It is in that time period that my body fairly shouts at me to stop, don’t go any further, you’re about to die. The true wonder of this situation is that if I can make it to a mile and a quarter, I’ll slide into a preternatural groove that can last well over two miles, possibly three. What I’m saying is, that half mile is one hell of a hassle.
So I fight. And struggle. And fight some more. But it doesn’t help that the song playing at this point is Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” so I hit the forward button and “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden blasts me into a good second wind, and a while later, with a little help from a couple songs by AC/DC and Van Halen, I settle into the awesome rhythm provided by the mile-and-a-quarter threshold.
What’s a real shame, though, is when I’m in a hurry like this, I try to shut it all down at around two miles. I figure it’s a good medium that gives me upwards of a good half-hour of heart acceleration, plus it provides me the satisfaction of having a fighting chance of completing everything I have on tap for the evening.
And so it happens that around a mile and a half, Creed’s “My Own Prison” shoots forth from my earbuds, and I start paying attention. Not much, but a little. Enough to recognize the universal truth that we all create our own prisons of the mind.
I cry out to God
Seeking only his decision
Gabriel stands and confirms
I've created my own prison
It’s a hell of a lot easier to tell someone else that they made their own bed and now they have to lie in it than to turn that judgment back on ourselves. As I run along, I admit to myself that yeah, I have created my own prison. Thanks a lot, Creed. That little bit of pop-art self-analysis has convicted me. I spend the rest of the song thinking about things I feel guilty about, but not in a depressed way. In fact, the more I run, I actually feel good about my chances at end-of-it-all redemption.
And the crunching power chords don’t hurt, either.
A softer song floats in next, allowing me to coast a little bit. Slower songs on the back side of a run serve two equally impactful purposes. One, it allows for introspection and maybe a little emotion to creep in, both of which are good for losing yourself in the perpetual motion involved with jogging. Two, and way more importantly, you can slow down slightly without guilt.
It’s a Steven Curtis Chapman song. I like this guy; he’s one of the few Christian songwriters that actually gets it right and seems sincere, like this is what he’d do even if he didn’t make money at it. And that kind of sincerity goes a long way, especially in a slow ballad. Fifteen to twenty seconds in, I cringe as a shadow passes over my soul: this is a song about adoption.
I knew Chapman had adopted kids. But the reason this song hits me like a thud in the pit of my stomach, though, is because my wife Robin and I are currently stuck in the process of adoption, having been extremely lax in pursuing it for months. We started out strong, but eventually, we tailed off. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances, but we could have kept the ball rolling a lot harder that we did.
Let me rephrase: I could have kept the ball rolling a lot harder. Me.
Chapman’s earnest voice calls out to me.
When love takes you home and says you belong here
The loneliness ends and a new life begins
When love takes you in it takes you in for good
When love takes you in
I’ll be honest. I feel sorry for myself right now. Poor me, it’s a big life adjustment, if I play it safe and don’t make any moves I can keep being lazy till … when? When am I gonna grow up? When I think of what Robin and I could be to someone who has nobody, or a baby who needs a home, it’s insane to do nothing. What the hell’s stopping me?
I stop feeling sorry for myself when the next song comes on. I smile; it’s a trusted band I’ve followed for over twenty years, Bon Jovi. The song is called “Welcome to Wherever You Are,” off their Have a Nice Day CD, and I think it’s really good. In fact, I think I’ll run another cliché into the dirt: in a world of Britney, Justin and Christina, they just don’t make ’em like this anymore.
I know sometimes it's hard for you to see
You come between just who you are and who you wanna be
After the last two songs, this damn thing’s a life saver. Yeah, you’ve been bad, you’ve created your own problems, but hell, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. You have to take responsibility for not being more successful than you are. Add to that a guilty conscience from knowing you could’ve pushed harder for an adoption both you and your wife really want, and you’ve got a right to beat yourself up. But out of all that semi-darkness, it’s a real stunner to see Jon Bon Jovi — Jon Bon Jovi, of all people —step out of the light at the end of your pity-party tunnel, extend a hand your direction and say, “Floyd, you gotta believe that right here right now, you're exactly where you're supposed to be.” Welcome to wherever I am, indeed.
At this point I’ve finished running and slowed down to a brisk walk. After runs, I like to cruise around a couple blocks in the neighborhood because one, I hate sweating all over the place when I get inside, and two, it stretches my calves more so I don’t pull the crap out of them. So I’m sweating, breathing hard, but feeling good.
And then Bono gut-punches me. Hard.
The song playing now is U2's “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” another of Bono’s long-ass titles that meander all over the liner notes, and I know a little about it. The song is a tribute to his father, Bob Hewson, and their relationship, but I’ve never really listened to it closely. I really only know it because of the comical first line, “You think you've got the stuff.” Such B-movie language. Awesome.
But this time, I still have the volume cranked up from the Bon Jovi tune, and the earbuds give off this intimate vibe that makes me feel as though Bono has stepped alongside me and is whispering in my ear. And since I’m pretty much wallowing in self-pity at this point, I allow myself the vanity to pretend that he is singing about my father, who I lost almost three years ago.
The words languidly pass by, evoking pictures in my mind’s eye of my dad, lying in that damn hospital bed, almost a stranger, wasting away from the double shot of cancer and diabetes. He can’t speak anymore, but he’s looking at me, with eyes that seem to comprehend. But does he? Does he know I’m here? Does he know? In my selfish mind, I want to think he does. But if I’m being truthful, the answer is clear: probably not.
You don’t have to put up a fight
You don’t have to always be right
Let me take some of the punches
For you tonight
Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don’t have to go it alone
And it’s you when I look in the mirror
And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own
But I know the truth. He DOES have to go it alone. No matter how much I want, I can’t enter that world and pull him out. I can’t … do anything.
We fight all the time
You and I … that’s alright
We’re the same soul
I don’t need … I don’t need to hear you say
That if we weren’t so alike
You’d like me a whole lot more
Images flash across my consciousness; hurts long ago buried come bubbling to the surface. Me in a rage, bicycling across the whole town to get away from him as fast as I could. Him, trying to protect me, forbidding me to play football, failing to control his temper. Me resisting his way, straining against the bonds of boundaries both real and imagined; shouting, railing against him, knowing that he really doesn’t know what it’s like to be me, he grew up in a different time and place and the world’s changed, damn it, and HE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND ME. Him, being obstinate, so sure he’s right, secure in the knowledge in fact, and damn it, MY SON DOESN’T UNDERSTAND ME. No fists ever, no violence, there was no need; conflict doesn’t reside solely in the realm of physical force anyway. There was plenty of other kinds of animosity available, and we took it. But conflict never really defined our relationship. In fact, the majority of the time, it was the exact opposite.
Can - you - hear - me – when – I -
Sing, you’re the reason I sing
I’m crying uncontrollably. I’m standing on the sidewalk next to a six-lane throughway with my hands on my knees and tears painting the sidewalk. My shoulders shake. I wonder vaguely if anyone notices, and almost in the same thought realize that I don’t care. The truth has crashed in on me, completely.
I still grieve for my father.
I had no idea.
Where are we now?
I’ve got to let you know
A house still doesn’t make a home
Visions fly fast, some fleeting, others fully formed. Frosty A&W root beer after working in the yard every Saturday. Finding common ground later in life through precious rounds of golf. My dad, on the sideline at every soccer game I ever played. Every piano recital. The joy in his voice when I’d make one of my infrequent calls home. Every moral decision I make. Everything I do is a reflection off the prism of his memory. His proud face at my graduation. His proud face at my wedding. His proud face at any one of my many failures.
Don’t leave me here alone ...
I will not lie. In many ways, I feel helpless without him. There is a void. A vacuum of time, space and soul that he used to occupy. I can no longer see him. Talk to him. Ask his advice. He will never again ask me how things are going, tell me how wonderful he thinks my wife is. I will never again see him at my mother’s side. He will never bail me out again. Not in this life, anyway.
I am my father’s son. And I hope the boy inside me never leaves.
One foot in front of the other.
Every step I take towards home gains a little more bounce. I feel more … purposeful. After all, there are things that need to be done.
The book can wait.