Sunday, February 27, 2011

Isaiah, Springsteen, and Buechner call me out of darkness

Isaiah 49:9

saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;

It was 1978 and I was in a light blue Chevy Monte Carlo. It was that time period when I was old enough to go into the examination room by myself, but not old enough to drive to the doctor's appointment.

My relationship with the urologist had started when I was four and lasted till I was 23 and so I can now sadly say that one of my most intimate relationships occurred at his office on Hamilton Street. Best practices of the day observed (but lots of pain, fear, sadness, anger, despair, embarassment). Nothing I would wish upon a nemesis.

I was 15 and growing up in Bruce Springsteen country (in this case defined by the radius of Philadelphia rock stations) and so I had to have heard his music. I must have. But I will swear it was that day, that moment, when Bruce showed up in my life. Soon after that drive home with my dad, I would buy Darkness on The Edge of Town.

This past week I have been listening to Bruce while flashing back to high school by working in Orange and Black. Back in 1978, I would have just begun my three years in the senior high school.

Well everybody's got a secret Sonny
Something that they just can't face
Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it
They carry it with them every step that they take
Till some day they just cut it loose
Cut it loose or let it drag 'em down
Where no one asks any questions, or looks too long in your face
In the darkness on the edge of town
In the darkness on the edge of town

Well, I had a secret all right. If I ever spoke of the urologist before my 20's, I don't recall the conversation. There have been times I have come close to telling my story here, but then stopped. But Friday night when I picked up the lyrics sheet, saw myself being driven in that car, and remembered how much I lacked in spirit, I decided it was time to cut the secret loose even further.

By the time I graduated I was spiraling downward and inward and my last memory is not of being handed a diploma, but of wanting to be lost and knowing of only one way to get my mind there.

I took month-long vacations in the stratosphere
and you know it's really hard to hold your breath.

Swear I lost everything I ever loved or feared,
I was the cosmic kid in full costume dress...

In my first year of college these lyrics (from Growing Up) inspired a friend to call me Stratozpheres which got shortened to Stratoz by the time I had lost my will to succeed and was asked to move on by the college. I left the college and the nickname, but kept my secret.

Lights out tonight,
Trouble in the heartland,
Got a head on collision,
Smashin' in my guts, man,
I'm caught in a cross fire,
That I don't understand,
I don't give a damn,
for the same old played out scenes,
I don't give a damn,
for just the in betweens,
Honey, I want the heart, I want the soul,
I want control right now
Talk about a dream,
try to make it real
You wake up in the night,
with a fear so real,
Spend your life waiting,
for a moment that just don't come,
Well, don't waste your time waiting,

Badlands, you gotta live it everyday,
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price you've gotta pay,
We'll keep pushin' till it's understood,
and these badlands start treating us good.

I believe in the love that you gave me,
I believe in the hope that can save me,
I believe in the faith
and I pray, that someday it may raise me,
Above these badlands

Badlands, you gotta live it everyday,
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price you've gotta pay,
We'll keep pushin' till it's understood,
and these badlands start treating us good.

For the ones who had a notion,
A notion deep inside,
That it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive
I wanna find one face that ain't looking through me
I wanna find one place,
I wanna spit in the face of these badlands

Bruce bursts into the album with those lyrics to what would become my favorite song. Gradually people, places, and things can melt even my amazingly stoic heart. That is what this blog is about. Not a rant about things that bring about anger, despair, fear, sadness..., but a celebration of the things that raised me up: God, Mosaic Woman, Friends, Jazz, Birds, Gardening, Teaching Science, Photography, Doodling, Stained Glass...

But it all started when I released the secret into the world and with lots of time and hope and love; finally one day I realized: That it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive ...

Moments of darkness await me. If there is one thing I have learned from this life is that healing can happen. Light can arrive. Darkness can linger, but more as a shadow than a cave that has entrapped us. No wonder I so agree with Frederick Buechner about the need to tell our stories, Darkness wants you to fear releasing what keeps it hidden. Trust allows you to tell your secrets.

"What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier . . . for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own . . . " Buechner from Telling Secrets


  1. I wish so much that someone I know had read this before his life ended.

  2. Beautifully written, Wayne. Some think the Bible to be the only way God speaks to us. It may well be the blueprint through which God's voice "holds the pieces together", but I find His voice able to reach us, call to us, in many other forms......

  3. Robin and Jim--- thanks for the comments, it meant a lot for someone to comment on this one.

  4. When you said on FB that you and Dave could listen to Springsteen while I listened to my Sassy Lady music, I thought, "But I'M the Springsteen fan." Now, with more back story, I know to long for Dave to have that chance.

    I'm thinking a lot about knowing and being known-- who we allow in, and by whom we're shut down.

    It's really an honor to have read this. It's exceptional.

  5. Di--- OK, come over and I will play Springsteen for you and Sassy Women Jazz musicians for Dave. Thanks for your kind words.

  6. This is incredible to me. When do we first witness ourselves? This was it for you. Acceptance comes, recognition. I am me. I am other. I am no one else. I am all right as I am. And everything opens from there!

    Then we want to be witnessed by the other, acknowledged, appreciated. This is what blogging is to me. 1) Witness myself, my soul, the song in me, 2) Witness the song in others, 3) have others witness the song in me, and 4) recognize what is ours together in all these layers, who am I in you, and you in me?

    Thank you for sharing this, and telling me about it.


Thanks for visiting Stratoz. I dig comments. Feel free to leave one here.