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Like a Song: The Wanderer

@U2, July 14, 2010
By: Sherry Lawrence


Like A Song[Ed. note: This is the 47th 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.]

I grew up being told that I can do anything I put my mind to, and that no matter what, to stay true to who I am. I was told that boys aren't any better than girls. Most importantly, everyone needs to be treated equally. I was taught that there's a purpose to my existence, and that it's not the destination, rather the journey that mattered.

All those are ideals are taught in any high school philosophy class, and it appears my parents were just passing on almost verbatim what those philosophy books expounded on. The cold, hard reality of it is that we don't live in an ideal world and we most certainly do not live in an equal world. With the sexism, racism, classism, and any other major ill the world's people deal with on a daily basis, that utopian idea of basic human rights and equality couldn't be further from the truth.

Leaving the nest for the first time as a college graduate, I entered a world where suddenly I was responsible for my own day-to-day life. It was no longer pretending to be a grown up, I was one now. Those –ism battles were thrust upon me as I fought for jobs, housing, financing, and all those other things that grownups had to cope with. As I navigated those treacherous waters, I managed to stay afloat, doing all the things that society deemed were acceptable. I accepted a job where I knew I was being underpaid compared to my male peers. I found housing offered by a woman who was sympathetic to me, even though I didn't have enough of a credit rating. All the while, I'm reminding myself that no matter what my problems are, they are nothing compared with others who live elsewhere in the world. What do I have to complain about, really? So, I just suppressed my own struggle and carried on, as that's what society teaches you to do.

The next big hurdle came when I had to fill out my marriage license and I had to declare what my legal name was going to be. I couldn't part with my maiden name because that's who I was all my life. However, society tells you that women really should take the last name of your husband, so I kept my maiden name and added my husband's last name without a hyphen. The person at town hall said that if I didn't add the hyphen, then legally I could go by both my maiden and my married name on legal documents. Jackpot, I thought! Take that, society! I can still be true to myself while at the same time bowing to the societal pressure of being the husband’s wife. The debate went on for a few years after our wedding as to what name I wanted on things like credit cards, rental agreements, plane reservations and such. I felt like I was living a double life. At the same time, it was becoming more complicated with things like passports and drivers' licenses given the new security measures that took effect after Sept. 11, 2001. So, I succumbed to the pressure and dropped my maiden name from most things and took on just my husband's last name. I felt like I had lost who I was. But, I should be thankful that this is the problem as there are women out there who aren't married, or can't marry, or have arranged marriages thrust upon them. What do I have to complain about, really? So once again, I suppressed my own struggle and carried on.

A few years after that, our son was born. I just took on a new responsibility -- Mom. I was told by many that women have a struggle with this as because suddenly you’re viewed as "a mom" and it will now be always about the children. Even my own mother told me that my "days are over" and that "it will never be about you anymore." Well, thanks, Mom. This was coming from the same woman who tried to instill in me those philosophical virtues about not losing your identity. As much as I didn't want to believe her, she was right. (There, I said it. My mother was right about something. Well, a few things really.) As motherhood began to consume me, I began to feel like nothing more than just a personal assistant to a baby. Don't get me wrong, I understood the enormous responsibility and loved the challenge. However, conversations became baby-focused. It wasn't "How are you doing," rather it was "How's the baby?" Suddenly, my thoughts didn't matter. My preferences went out the window. It didn't matter if I was getting enough sleep or if I ate dinner, it was only about if the baby pooped or not. As babies can't talk, there were days where I was just talking to the wall. I longed for a real conversation where I could use real words that didn't have to be spoken in a sing-song way. I wanted to get back to some of my interests, however simple they may be. I wanted my son to become a part of me and our family and not overtake it. However, seeing as billions of others in the world suffer from the same challenges as I do, it wasn't like I was discovering anything new. So, just like everything else, I bottled up the frustration and just carried on about my day.

When my daughter was born, those bottled-up frustrations could not stay suppressed. I had been struggling with my identity for well over a decade by this point. Who the hell am I? What really is my purpose? Is it to continue down this path of what society deems to be acceptable? Do I need to genuflect every time society dictates to me what I’m supposed to do? Whatever happened to "stay true to yourself?" I understand that as troubles go, I have nothing to complain about. However it took me a long time of talking to the wall in the middle of the night to acknowledge that what I am feeling is real. I cannot negate the emotion and frustration I feel in my life. Suppressing them will not make them go away, rather it allows them to fester. I am glad that I don't drink, as drowning the emotion would have led me down a really bad path. Accepting that life isn't fair, society isn't perfect, and we all have to cope with the hand we're dealt are the lessons those high school philosophy books should be teaching.

This is where U2's "The Wanderer" comes into play. Bono wrote this song at the same age that I began my own journey into discovering who I really am. I took comfort in Johnny Cash's grandfatherly voice, almost as if he was passing down to me the struggles that existed generations before, and that what I was going through in my journey isn't anything new. While the lyrics talk of a harsher journey than mine, the song reminded me that no matter what my struggle is, if I don't lift it up to a higher authority, I will never find peace in it. "A spirit who would not bend or break, who would sit at his father's right hand ... Jesus, don't you wait up. Jesus I'll be home soon." The beauty of free will is that we can choose to take on these struggles on our own, or we can lift them up and ask for help. Being the spiritual person I am, I may continue to have these identity issues, however I feel a comfort in knowing that I'm not suffering alone. I am many things and wear many hats, but at the end of the day, I am but one person. Who I am is a combination of all those things. I just have to accept that the parts of me that are more prominent do not comprise the whole of me. There's still that 21-year-old in there who wants to interview U2 one day, and there's still that 25-year-old in there who wants to lose the freshman 10 pounds gained back in college. There's also the 8-year-old in there who just wants her favorite stuffy and silk ribbon to comfort her. On this journey of life, there certainly are times I went (and will continue to go) wandering.

© @U2/Lawrence, 2010

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