Five years ago I began a mission running marathons and half marathons to raise money and awareness for cystic fibrosis. I felt helpless. I felt that I wasn’t doing enough for my son, Jacob, in trying to find a cure for CF, and I believed that if I punished my body enough, people would take pity on me and make donations. I soon found that that it didn’t matter so much how many miles I ran, or how many months I woke up at 6 AM to go running — people would make donations out of the goodness of their hearts, because they wanted to help.
I decided to document my journey on a blog. The idea was to keep family and friends informed of not only my training progress, but to keep them up to date on Jacob’s health and to help readers to understand what it is like raising a child with a deadly illness. A longtime Bruce Springsteen fan (Julie would call me a fanatic—I wouldn’t disagree), I chose to call the blog IF I SHOULD FALL BEHIND. The title comes from a 1992 Springsteen song of the same name. To me that song represented the idea that should I stumble or fall, someone would be there to boost me up and set me back on course.
“If I Should Fall Behind” originally appeared on Springsteen’s Lucky Town, an album recorded in a burst of creative energy soon after the birth of his first child. The studio version is a gentle love song with a country flavor: acoustic guitars and drums with minimal keyboards. For the accompanying tour, Springsteen transformed it from its basic roots and turned it into a hymn-like celebration. It was the first of many incarnations the song took until it was fully realized in 1999. In ’92, each time he performed the song, Springsteen began it alone, strumming his electric guitar, placing the focus on the opening verse.
We said we’d walk together baby come what may
That come the twilight should we lose our way
If as we’re walkin’ a hand should slip free
I’ll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me
Then, the band would come in and the song would build to wonderful heights, featuring flamenco-styled guitar, angelic synths and a chorus of singers harmonizing in the background. Three years later, as he embarked on his first solo acoustic tour, the song took on a new shape, adopting a Dylan-esque melody, appropriate for a concert of one man alone in the spotlight with just his guitar and harmonica. By the end of that same tour, he had changed it up again, creating an ethereal, nearly a capella version inspired by Dion. Through all of these various interpretations, “If I Should Fall Behind” remained a love song, a prayer between devoted lovers facing the world head on. When Springsteen finally reunited with his musical soul mates, the E Street Band, in 1999, their concerts became celebrations of the everlasting bond that exists between these people and their adoring audience, “If I Should Fall Behind” became a soulful encore that was a lasting statement to their fans and to each other about family and friendship.
Musically, this new version became an amalgam of his three ’90s versions, adding a new soulful touch to it with each singer taking a verse as Springsteen while accompanies them with his guitar. It’s no mistake that during Clarence Clemons sax solo, Max Weinberg and Garry Tallent play a “Stand by Me” type rhythm that directly links “If I Should Fall Behind” to Ben E. King’s treasured classic. The song comes to a triumphant end when Bruce, Little Steven, Patti, Nils and the Big Man all harmonize at the end.Â Thankfully, the song was recorded and eventually released on the great Live in New York City CD released in 2001.
I kept up my original blog for two more years, detailing our lives and pouring my heart and guts into the writing. Nothing was sacred. At times I came off as a fool or an ass, but I learned how to be direct and honest. However, I didn’t think too many people were reading the blog; I never received any comments. Soon after a half marathon in early 2006, I retired IF I SHOULD FALL BEHIND and began thunderbolt, a new journal. Through my writing on thunderbolt, something wondrous happened: People from my past began contacting me. Old friends from college and high school came out of the woodwork, asking about Jacob and wondering how they could help in the battle against cystic fibrosis. It was also through thunderbolt that I came to know Jeff Giles, the ringmaster of Popdose, and was introduced to a wonderful group of writers that I call friends, even though I’ve only met a few of them in person. Without realizing it, I had become a part of a large community that I could turn to in need.
When I decided to attempt another half marathon this year, I took comfort in the fact that I would be able to open up and seek help from the friends I have made over the past four years. If there is one truth I have learned in the seven years Jacob has been alive it’s that people are inherently good. Even if they have little to spare, or if they can only pass along a fundraising letter, people are willing to take a few minutes from their day to help a friend or a family member. I have a long list of names I wish I could type out, but it would take up too much space and I fear I would inadvertently leave off a name or two. But let me just say to all of you who have sent your money, your thoughts and prayers, and your love, thank you, thank you, thank you.
A week from Sunday will be an emotional time, not just from the race I’ll be running, but because what that race represents. Falling just two days from Jacob’s birthday, I know that there will be times when I’m overcome with anger or grief. Like the hundreds of runs I’ve been on, I am prepared to gut it though the painful moments, either through music, tears, or even guttural screams. But most of all, I know that should those methods not work, I’ll have the collective love and support of my friends, new and old, my family, and most importantly, Julie, Sophie and Jacob to lift me up. If I should fall behind, they’ll always wait for me.