The year is 2017. I am in the stands of MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Section 211, row 8, seat 9. I’m a drop in the ocean of hearts that have gathered on a perfect summer night, one week after the solstice. We are here to listen to four Irish guys play some songs that they played 30 years ago from an album called The Joshua Tree. I can barely see Bono, The Edge, Adam, and Larry from my place in the sky. But in one single guitar lick, I’m as taken by them as if they were in my back yard. And they take me, without permission or pause, to 20 year-old me.
The power of it is unexpected. And what a lovely mess I am. Again.
As I close my eyes and let the breeze move through my hair, all “nothing to win and nothing left to lose,” I swear on all things holy, an old lover’s full lips brush my mouth. In my peripheral vision, in the seat right next to me, not the new friend that’s come with me, but my keeper of secrets 30 years ago. I can sense them all around me. The tribe of my youth. We’re wide open. Full of life and reaching forward. Broken and bruised and alive and in love.
In 1987, the last concert lyric from the song 40 lingers forever. With the house lights up we sing with Bono, “How long, to sing this song,” and we sing long after he walks off the stage. One by one each band member walks away while we keep the song going. First The Edge, then Adam, and finally, even as Larry rises from his drums, tosses his sticks in the air and leaves us to our own rhythm, we keep singing, over and over, “How long, to sing this song.” When the concert ends, I jump on my secret-keeper’s back and he carries me all the way down the stadium ramps to our car. In the parking lot everyone’s windows are down and we all tune into the same radio station, the one playing U2 songs. We sing some more.
30 years later, after the concert is over and my new friend and I drive slowly to the parking lot exit, windows down to let in the summer breeze, it dawns on me: no one is listening to the radio. No two cars are playing the same song. No one is singing. Welcome back to 2017.
It takes a while to recover from time travel. I am road-weary, wondering why the past is so present these days. But someone tells me that when visited by other lives, it’s important to listen to what these different selves have to say. It’s important to love them. I like the sound of that and so I go with it, cocking my head to the side, adjusting my radar, and I wait.
On Sunday, I take my first trip of the season to the beach. I am hyper aware of my body. I tell my girlfriend days before that I’d like to place an order for my 36 year-old thighs. That first day on the beach is always a bit brutal. Self-consciously, I set myself up, strip down to my bathing suit, and take that long, almost-naked walk to the edge of the ocean. The water is clear and calm…no small miracle up in these parts. After talking myself down from the worry of sharks, riptides, jellyfish, tsunamis, and other assorted catastrophes, I decide that things look good enough to do more than my fearful-old-lady dip. So I hold my nose and I go under.
I ask no one. Then someone. Then her. When did I become so afraid of everything?
When he died.
When your heart broke.
When you got sick.
When the Towers came down.
When you got it wrong again.
When the hurricanes blew in.
When hope died.
When I come back up, I push myself off the ocean floor and onto my back. Arms out, face up, chest, belly, and legs undulate over the next small wave. I can’t remember the last time my body did that. But it somehow remembers to let go. And on my wet, warm, walk over the sand back to my towel, I notice it. No longing for her. No separateness from her. No self-consciousness. Just me, all of me, comfortable in my own skin, on this beautiful day. I arrive at my spot and fall asleep in the sun.