Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I was born to be a ballerina and choosing the path of least resistance was a mistake my (likely very weary) mother made when she let me quit ballet at the tender age of six. Maybe I was born to Slanket up and hold down a couch every night, and each time I pull on running shoes and choose the miles over the television, I’m actually denying my full, lazy potential. All I know is that now, in this week of weeks, I feel as ready to run as I ever have. And for that, I have one man to thank.
Yesterday was my 34th birthday and in a happy coincidence that, for 26 songs, 3 hours and 12 minutes last night felt very much like something far greater than that, Bruce Springsteen performed in Portland. On. My. Birthday. Words won’t do it justice, and yet… I must.
I don’t know how many people were there with me in the Rose Garden last night. 15,000ish maybe? Whatever the number, I have never been a part of something where it seemed as though every single person was feeling the same thing at the same time. More remarkably, one man willed it to be so. Bruce controlled the room so masterfully and beautifully that just as things would start to mellow and my brain would begin to entertain the thought that maybe it was going to end at some point and I wouldn’t be living out the remainder of my days in that arena, he would bring it back up and once again the whole damn place was back on our feet, screaming and smiling and (in my case) crying like a baby.
An admittedly insufficient account of some of the evening’s highlights:
1. I was hoping that “We Take Care of Our Own” would come later in the set. I’ve listened to it about eleventy billion times since Election Day and I was looking so forward to hearing it live. I knew that I’d probably burst into some sort of delayed November 6 tears of relief and joy when he played it. That’s exactly what happened when it surfaced as the fourth song of the night. I kinda lost my shit a little bit, and it pretty much stayed lost for the next three hours.
2. So many people got pulled up on stage to sing and dance and hug Bruce and just generally delight the crowd and inspire rabid jealousy. A stranger birthday-brother who was there celebrating his 50th got up on stage and shared the mic with Bruce and absolutely held his own. It was pretty awesome to watch. And the ten-year-old girl who danced adorably with Bruce and got picked up by him and had her picture taken with him by her father who was down on the floor? I hope that critter grasped at least a little of what she was experiencing and plasters that photo all over everything she owns forever and ever.
3. Bruce is 63 years old. I have seen him live twice, but both times in the last four years. I have no firsthand experience with what it was like to watch him perform as a younger man, but if he has slowed down even an ounce over the years, I wouldn’t believe it. From the moment he took the stage until the moment he left it, HE WAS ON. And if that wasn’t enough, he crowd surfed. It was the slowest moving crowd surf ever, but it happened.
Last night was simply a wonder. When I saw Bruce and the E Street Band in the spring of 2008, it was the best show of my life. It now pales in comparison only to last night. The life, the vitality, the energy, the tender and reverent acknowledgement of the absence of those that the band has lost along the way – it was all on such electric display last night that the only thing to do was give oneself over to it and to the music. For once in my life I didn’t feel silly about crying. I didn’t feel self-conscious about how not in control of my reactions I was. I was just… there.
Of the many kind and lovely birthday messages I received yesterday, one of my favorites was from my friend Becca. She wrote, “You were literally born to run. Have a great rock-and-roll birthday, friend.” A sweet sentiment that captures precisely where my brain is at right now. Bruce and running. Marathon #4 is coming up in three days. On Saturday morning I fly down to Sacramento and on Sunday I’ll run the California International Marathon. As I write, Sacramento is being buffeted by wind and rain that are showing no signs of letting up. There are flood watches and wind advisories in effect from now through Sunday. It is looking like a near certainty that I will be running a very soggy 26.2 in a few days.
At 63, Bruce Springsteen is about nine months older than my dad. My father is a huge part of why I love Bruce so much, and it is because of my dad that I’ve been lucky enough to see him twice. Without showing too much of my fear-of-death hand, I’ll just say that because of that connection in my brain, I have a strong interest in seeing Bruce stay as healthy and energetic and full of life as he was last night for a good long time to come. One of my favorite songs of his was not part of the setlist last night. “This Life” is one of the most happy making songs I’ve ever heard.
This life, this life and then the next
With you I have been blessed
What more can you expect?
In thinking about last night and that song and all of it on my last pre-race run this afternoon, it occurred to me that Bruce is, to me, a protective buffer between this life and the next. As long as he makes music – soul-filling, life-affirming, ghost-honoring music, it will all be okay. And if I’m going to hang that crushing responsibility on his – albeit age-defying – shoulders, I should probably at least do my part to make the most of my time on this side of the buffer. For now, that means running strong and fast and soaking wet on Sunday.
I have a brand new playlist on my iPod. I dumped all the Bruce I have into it this afternoon and named it “Bruce.CIM”. On Sunday it will be the only thing I listen to while I run. No matter what the outcome of those miles, they will always be tied in my memory to Bruce and to last night and this week and to how extraordinarily lucky I feel right now to have this life. What more could I expect indeed?