[Ed. note: This is the 48th in a series of personal essays by the @U2 staff about songs and/or albums that have had great meaning or impact in our lives.]
Let's rewind to one year ago today...
2:35 p.m., Sept. 23, 2009: I'm sitting in a car parked just outside Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. My longtime friend, Donna S., is in the car with me. We're waiting for another longtime friend, Jean, to come back to us after parking her car inside the stadium lot. We'll use it to drive back to the hotel after tonight's U2 show.
It's the first show I'll be seeing on the U2 360 tour and, like many fans, I have a list of things I want -- and don't want -- to hear.
"I won't mind if they never play 'Still Haven't Found' again," I say. "I got tired of that song after radio and MTV overplayed the Rattle and Hum version with the choir," I say. Donna agrees. It's one of the old songs we've both heard enough.
Jean eventually makes her way back to us. We head back to the hotel where my son is waiting with Donna's husband and kids. There's a U2-themed cake for me. It's my birthday. I'm 41 years old.
I had a midlife crisis about three years ago. For a lot of guys, a midlife crisis means trying to regain their youth. They buy a motorcycle or a sports car. They divorce their wife. They start dating women half their age. But not me. My midlife crisis wasn't about reliving the past. It was about living for the future: It suddenly hit me that half of my life was over. Ack!
I started thinking about all the time I'd wasted doing nothing as a kid. (As a grownup, too.) I started thinking about all the things I still wanted to do -- still need to do -- before I die. I started thinking a lot about death, about its finality. But not in a morbid, woe-is-me way; in a "life is short, so don't waste a single moment" way. I realized that I'm running a race. My midlife crisis helped me focus on the things that matter in whatever time I have left. Focus -- that's the word. The race is on.
Later that night: I'm at the concert with my son, Sean. We're up in the 200 level in a section that's pretty much dead. Most of the people around us don't know the new songs at the start of the show. We're standing; they're sitting. It's frustrating.
"Mysterious Ways" gets them going, though. And then "Still Haven't Found" starts. The crowd loves it; there's a rapturous response as Edge's familiar guitar begins. Me? Not so much. I'm reminded of my conversation with Donna earlier. But moments later, something happens. Bono's singing and I start to cry a bit. That's not unusual; a lot of U2 shows have brought me to tears, but never during this song.
Thanks to that midlife crisis, I cherish the Good Things in life now more than ever: Sitting around the dinner table, talking with my wife and kids. Sitting on the back patio with my dog on the ground next to me, his body half-covering my foot. Watching a sunset just a little longer. Taking the family to a Seattle Mariners baseball game. Visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and gawking at the U2 display with friends and fellow @U2 staffers. This is the stuff that matters.
I have no time or patience for silliness, stupidity and pettiness. They're wastes of time. They don't matter.
I do have time for trying to be a great husband; trying to be a great dad; trying to be a great Christian. More: trying to be a great son, brother and uncle; trying to be a great friend; trying to be a great example to all those around me. In other words, doing things the right way. Finishing the race strong.
24 hours later, Sept. 24, 2009: We're all at the second show together, down on the field. It happens again. Tears start to flow during "Still Haven't Found." This part really hits me, and I choke up as I sing along:
I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well, yes, I'm still running
You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
And my shame
All my shame
You know I believe it
By the end of the song, I'm a mess.
Those lyrics remind me how blessed I am. My family is healthy. We have a roof over our heads. I get to work from home doing something I love. I get to see my kids every day when they get home from school. My parents are alive. I'm blessed more than anyone deserves. Grace abounds, as Bono likes to say.
11:25 p.m., same night (Sept. 24): I turn my phone on as we're leaving Giants Stadium. The show was fantastic. There's a voicemail from my mom in Philadelphia. Her voice is cracking. She wants me to call as soon as I can, no matter how late it is. That doesn't sound good, I think. I finally call after we get back to the hotel, where I can have some privacy.
She tells me that Linda, my niece -- my sister's oldest child, 20 years old -- has overdosed on drugs. She's in intensive care. Sean and I don't need to leave right away; we'll be headed there tomorrow, anyway. After two great nights of U2 shows with friends I haven't seen in ages, this hits hard. I sleep and think about the drive back to Philadelphia in the morning.
Linda had been troubled for many years. She made bad choices in her teen years. Fell in with the wrong crowd. She had a big, generous heart, though, and tried several times to get her life on the right track, to climb that mountain. I lived 2,500 miles away from her -- from my whole family, for that matter -- so I can't say I knew all the ins and outs of her life. I don't know if she even knew what she was looking for; it's obvious she never found it. But demons or not, she was so damn likable.
Sept. 26, Philadelphia: What was supposed to be a birthday party of sorts for me is now a collective mourning. The whole family is at my parents' house. Everyone's a mess. We're remembering Linda's best moments and lamenting her struggles. She died yesterday before Sean and I got back from the concerts. She overdosed on my birthday, about the time that I was at Giants Stadium for the first U2 concert, complaining about the tragedy of having to hear a familiar, old song one more time.
Perspective is a marvelous thing. It's so easy to get wrapped up in stuff that doesn't matter. It's so easy to complain about the size of the tree or the leaves that fall, all the while missing the fruit it produces or not even seeing the forest it's in. Bono's on to something when he talks about "joy" being a difficult emotion to convey; I'm trying to focus on it more in my daily life, counting my blessings and not wasting my time with trivial complaints. John Wooden, the late UCLA basketball coach and a real hero of mine, often said that "love" is the most important word in the English language and "balance -- keeping things in perspective" is second.
Oct. 3 and Oct. 23, 2009: It happens again at the U2 shows in Raleigh and Las Vegas. As I hear Edge's guitar start "I Still Haven't Found...," it's my cue to get away. I need to be alone. To think about Linda, how she held the hand of the devil. To pray that no one else ever struggles like she did. To cry. To be thankful for how much this song suddenly means, and how much this band has always meant. To think about the decisions I've made and the decisions I need to make as I get older. To be reminded. To focus.
That old, familiar song has become more important to me now than ever. Life is halfway over, but the race is just beginning. I'm going to send my son off to college in six years; my daughter four years after him. It'll just be Cari and me at that point. I'll miss my kids enormously, but I'm looking forward to time alone with my wife again, like it was for the first six years we were married. We'll both keep working. Will we move? Will we travel? I hope so. I want to see the world. Will we be healthy? God willing! The kids will finish college. They'll get married. We'll become grandparents. And then it all starts over again, this time trying to be a great grandparent, etc.
Yes, I'm still running. You know I believe it.
© @U2/McGee, 2010.