It is early in the morning on my deadline for this column; I was up before the dawn. I’m notoriously late in delivering my work to the editor, which is probably why I would not make it in the journalism business. Like any self-loathing writer I want to improve on my craft and all its periphery. Therefore I became determined to turn this piece in on time. I knew exactly the matter on which I was inspired to compose; I had a formal sketch of it outlined; I even had almost finished writing by the week of its due date. But on the eve of the deadline I decided not to turn in the almost completed essay, and instead start a new one. This one.
So, here I sit – day of the deadline – starting the second paragraph of a new work that hasn’t technically begun yet since I insist on delaying the actual start of the piece by describing why I’m writing one at all. Rest assured, dear reader (interesting: “dear reader” is deceivingly close to being a palindrome), it was not whimsy which spurred the spurning of a near-finished creation – which was, I believe, quite good. Instead, I am coerced to write this still-not-officially-started column by the weight of a brief moment experienced on a mundane commute home that pressed my soul until I wept. A weight so weighty that if I’d been on a scale I’d have weighed 10 times what I actually weigh.
And now, it has begun.
People who are lost find out they are so by one of two ways. They might, after some time wandering off the path set before them, begin to notice the absence of the markings blazing toward their destination. Others only discover their lostness upon arriving, miraculously, back home – or at least on the path toward home. The former, now seeing the imminent danger all around them, frantically search for any sign of what was their guide and inevitably realize how precarious the journey and elusive their safety. The latter are oblivious to that precariousness and move about as though safety were ubiquitous. They don’t understand the narrowness of path and closeness of danger.
I was the latter – until yesterday.
Our deepest – and most painful when unfulfilled – dreams and aspirations for our lives are often formed in youth. I remember the me that I was when I first set sights on the me that I hoped to become. Looking back, I am glad I am the me I am now and not the me I hoped to be in almost every regard. Our lives often travel down paths that wind, climb hills, circle back, and force us to take the long way home.
I do mean paths plural. I have many dreams, many homes at which I hope to one day arrive. A home for work, one for family, one for life, one for the afterlife, and many others. Yet I, stupid little dreamer that I am, had wandered from one of those paths.
I don’t recall when it happened; I think there were signs I was taking misstep after misstep, but they weren’t ever bright enough to signal trouble – to say, “You may never get home if you keep going this way.” I wandered, feeling the whole time a security in the assumed inevitability of my arrival home, unaware that scores of threats to my hopes were amassing all around.
If I’m honest, I knew that something wasn’t right. I knew I wasn’t heading toward home any longer. I just didn’t want to believe it. It’s much easier to pretend that one day all my dreams will come true, even while I’ve forgotten what some of them were, than to pursue them.
In that frame of mind I sat on a crowded subway biding time until my stop. I would alight there and go about believing that I was still on course. But that’s not how it happened.
Halfway home something happened – something so powerful it really did bring tears to my eyes. (Which were fortunately hidden behind dark sunglasses. Always a wise choice on crowded trains. You never know when you’ll have a “moment.” And then it gets all weird when people notice and you feel their awkward body language of not knowing whether to say something. And you have to tell them that you’re fine and they don’t really believe you because you’re whimpering like a baby. Anyway. Sunglasses are good to have.)
In my headphones, instead of the usual rotation of podcasts, I was listening to an old favorite, a group a friend recently mentioned was terrific when he suggested we start performing one of their tunes. I remembered how much I enjoyed them a decade or so ago and thought it would be fun to reminisce.
What I wasn’t prepared for was to hear the source of one of my dreams. To be reminded of why I decided to play saxophone, why I love music at all, why I studied it and still hope to “make it.” It’s not surprising that hearing music from my youth showed me how far astray I’d gone from the simplicity of my hopes and the purity of enjoyment of music that was once mine. What was surprising was the group that made me cry in public was Supertramp.
It’s almost too absurd to be true.
I loved Supertramp once. Their songs bellowed from the car stereo (back when I had a car). I didn’t really know or care why I dug their groove then. I just did. And it was inspiring. I wanted to make music that gave others that simple – and simultaneously profound – satisfaction of relishing living.
I’m not saying that I don’t make that kind of music now. I certainly hope I do. But I had gotten caught up in the intelligentsia; in the constant analysis and dissection of music; in the reduction of the transcendent to the calculable, the concrete.
Something important happens when one falls in love with music – music which needs no justification. There’s no list of historical, theoretical, or philosophical reasons to prove why this music is “good.” It’s good because it is, and you know it instinctively.
Listening to them now, I understand why their music is compelling, why I loved it then and still love it today. I can see the stuff of which it is made, how it holds together structurally. I can hear why it is interesting.
But I don’t need the why anymore.
I had forgotten that I once enjoyed music beyond a cerebral appreciation. That I had set sights on a home where I loved the music I listened to and loved the music I made – just because.
I didn’t even know I was lost.
Supertramp showed me the long way home, the same way they did fifteen years ago.