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Basement Songs: Bruce Springsteen, “My City of Ruins”

On Saturday morning I watched my son, Jacob, run his first cross country race. This was just the latest obstacle he’s tackled in his nine and a half years, a life filled with medical treatments to combat his cystic fibrosis, as well as the hundreds of pills he’s taken to digest food and the regular doctor visits. As race time approached, Jake was full of anxiety, even pleading with his parents not to make him run. The boy has never run competitively; I don ‘t think it’s in his nature to want to better someone else. Add to that his worry of coming in dead last and you can understand his dread. But he overcame his fears and met the challenge head on.

While he stood at the starting line, anticipating the starter pistol, I kept flashing him a thumbs up, a sign of encouragement. At the crack of the gun he took off running with the rest of his age group, across an open field, and onto the dirt trail that circled the city park where the race was held. For 1.8 miles he pushed himself physically harder than he ever had before, striving to do his very best. That’s what we talked about many times before the race,making sure he did his best. Both his mother and I repeated to him that all we wanted was for him to go out and run for himself and most importantly, to have fun.

If Jacob enjoys participating in cross country, if he should find a passion for it, this type of exercise will help him so much in his battle with CF. Strong lungs are essential to staying healthy. Perhaps Jacob will fall in love with running, leading to a lifetime of strong lungs. We can only hope.

As the race continued, Jacob kept a steady pace, only stopping a couple of times to catch his breath. Throughout his run, his mom, sister and I jogged to certain areas of the course in order to cheer him on. For those twenty-two minutes of the morning I was oblivious to the sound of the crowd cheering, the results of the other racers, or where Jacob placed in his run. My son’s determination and strength filled me with such pride and love that nothing else mattered. When he crossed the finish line, having found a last burst of energy for the final one hundred yards, the smile on his face filled me with such hope.

Not once during Jacob’s triumph did I think about the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City, Washington DC or the crash of United 93 in Pennsylvania. It’s been impossible to escape the 10th Anniversary of the horrible event, with every news outlet, blog or person on the street talking about it.  Attention has been paid to how the arts responded to 9/11 and helped people emotionally. Time and again Bruce Springsteen’s 2002 anthem, “The Rising,” was discussed as one of the most significant works to come from the tragedy. I love that song and it has a significant place in my heart. However, when I recall 9/11 I’m drawn to Springsteen’s “My City of Ruins,” in particular this version that he performed  for the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon on September 21, 2001.

With just his guitar and harmonica, a small group of singers behind him, Springsteen delivered his “prayer for our fallen brothers and sisters” with reverence and respect for the fallen. More importantly, as the background choir sang “with these hands” over and over and Bruce responded, “I pray for the strength, Lord,” “I pray for the faith, Lord,”  Springsteen seemed to be praying for the nation and the world to come together in order to heal. It was his message of hope and faith in a time of fear and uncertainty.

Hope and faith, just what I’d experienced on Saturday morning. There’s no way a youth cross country race can even relate to what happened on that day in September. I wouldn’t dare to say that I understand what the people who lost loved ones on 9/11and the years after, either through war or through slow, painful deaths caused by the deadly toxins released into the air, have experienced. I will say that we owe it to those who have died and those who fought valiantly that day to continue showing our resilience and doing our part to make this world a better place.

Just last night, as the family was out walking the dog, Jacob asked questions about 9/11 and what it meant. For now, simple answers seem to do the trick, but someday I have a feeling he’ll dig deeper. He may ask where we were on that day and how we coped. If he does, I’ll tell him that music was my means for dealing with the sorrow. It brought me solace, as it does for everyone, whether holed up in their basement, bedroom or a driving car, or gathered in a small club, a concert arena or a giant stadium. Music helps us cope. It helps us move forward, so that our children can participate in cross county races with the faith and hope that better days are around the corner.

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  • Jay

    I’ve been having second thoughts about participating in a drumming competion in 2 weeks.
    I don’t have any physical adversities to contend with. However, like Jacob, I just don’t want to finish last. Hopefully I can channel Jacobs courage on that night. Tell him I said thanks for the inspiration.

  • JonCummings

    Damn, I miss this column. Thanks, as always, for putting things in perspective, Scott.

  • Karyn Malchus

    Even in my busty crazy ridiculous life i HAD to take the time to read this Popdose.  I knew it would be about Jacob’s race and I wanted to hear your perspective. I talked to Jake on the phone the day after and could here the enormous pride in his voice.  I think he even amazed himself!!  Makes all the struggle worthwhile. Thanks for sharing…