Friday Fun: Boss Top Ten, #1--"The Rising"

"The Rising" (off of The Rising (2002))
Concert Footage: Sao Paulo (Brazil), 2013


To understand why "The Rising" is the #1 Springsteen song for me, I have to tell you a story.  In the summer of 2002, I took a trip.  The primary purpose of the trip was a family reunion for my mother's side of the family in New Jersey, and I was joined by my mom and my sisters.  After that, the four of us took a memorable trip to Boston to look at colleges for my sister Katie.  I then put my family on a plane back to Florida, and took the train into New York City to see my friend Adam.  Adam and I went to college together, and we were (and are) good friends.  Among his rather diverse skill-set, Adam has a television production background, and at the time he was working for a company that was documenting on video the recovery/clean up efforts at the site of the World Trade Center.

And so, on an absolutely perfect July day, he and I went to the site where the World Trade Center once stood.  When I was young, my father would take my brother and I into work with him in New York on New Year's Eve, and I have a clear memory of getting off the PATH train at the Trade Center and looking up to see those enormous buildings.  Seeing them as nothing but an ocean of twisted metal was deeply effecting.  It was emotional for Adam as well (even though he was there almost every day during that period) because he had been getting on the subway under the Trade Center when the planes hit the first tower.  A slight bit of different timing and he might have been one of the victims.

[Side Note:  Over Thanksgiving this year, I went back to the Trade Center for the first time in ten years or so, and went to the Trade Center memorial and museum.  It is extremely well-done and very moving, and if you have a chance to go, you owe it to yourself to do so.]

That day was emotionally charged for me for another reason, which was that I knew that the next day I was going to get on a plane and formally enter the Dominicans.
I had been building up to that day for three years, through a great deal of struggle and depression.  It should have been a day of celebration.  And yet, walking around New York City with Adam, for the first time in years I was having doubts about what I was doing.  To say that this feeling of doubt was unwelcome would be an understatement--I felt like I had been through so much to get to that point that I could not possibly throw it all away now with doubts.

Anyway, Adam and I spent the day hanging out in New York City--going to lunch in Little Italy, walking around in different neighborhoods, etc.  In the evening, we took the ferry back to his place in Jersey City, where I was going to crash on his couch before getting on the plane the next morning.  Back at his apartment, he had a surprise for me--some early released tracks of Springsteen's forthcoming album, The Rising.  You see, Adam is basically a Springsteen superfan, and he was the guy that got me into Springsteen in college.  The first song he played off was the title track, "The Rising."

That day, and that period of time in my life, is a tangle of conflicting emotions that even fourteen years later I cannot fully pull apart.  I had carefully constructed a life which was designed to put everything into a neat and tidy set of boxes to fend off by doubts and confusion and fear, but on that day I began to sense that the construction was not as solid and steady as I had hoped.  It surely could have been cold feet, but as it turned out it was a genuine intuition that I was not going to get on that plane and smoothly sail off into the sunset.

"The Rising" is a song (in part) about the fire fighters who went into the Trade Center on 9-11.  And while what I was going through on that day cannot remotely be compared to what they went through, I identified with the confusion and fear, the transition from having a clear vision to immediately being thrust into the disorientation of the dark:

Can't see nothin' in front of me,
Can't see nothin' coming up behind ...
I make my way through this darkness,
I can't feel nothing but this chain that binds me.
Lost track of how far I've gone
How far I've gone, how high I've climbed ...
On my back's a 60-pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile of line


That's how I felt on that day in July.  The genius of "The Rising" is that it takes a thoroughly terrible and singular experience and makes it into a symbol of the struggle that everyone experiences.  Everyone has stairs to climb and packs to carry, and the fact that your pack and your climb is not as burdensome as the firefighters' doesn't make it not real.

But "The Rising" is not fundamentally about that confusion and fear, but about the hope that comes at the other end of that darkness.  This hope is ultimately found, not in some abstract deus ex machina, but in each other.

Come on up for the rising,
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising,
Come on up for the rising, tonight. 

I will always be very grateful to Adam and his then-girlfriend-now-wife Cindy that they were there on that day.  It's not really that they did anything in particular; they simply were there, and that was what I needed.  There is a solidarity that "The Rising" (both the song and the album) celebrates and holds up as the antidote to the tough times of life.  That solidarity in and through the tough times is explicitly called out in the bridge.

Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)
Sky of glory and sadness (a dream of life)
Sky of mercy, sky of fear (a dream of life)
Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)
Your burnin' wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)

Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life

Hearing the "The Rising" in Adam and Cindy's apartment didn't take away my confusion and worries.  It didn't convince me that I was doing the right thing.  But it did give me a sense that, whatever was going to come, in the end it was going to be OK.  And that was precisely what I needed to hear on that day and in that place.  Every time this song plays, I am immediately transported back to that place and that time.  And, when that happens, I feel a little better, a little more at peace with myself and who I am.  "The Rising" is now a part of my life, and will be for the rest of my time.

And that's why it is #1 on this list.

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