Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Staying and Growing

Anyone with more than a casual interest in the music of Bruce Springsteen knows that his relationship with his father was, to say the least, complicated. Early in his career (1978) Bruce wrote a song that was the first of many references to that relationship, entitled "Adam Raised a Cain." If you don't know it (or even if you do!) you can listen to a live version here.

The key lines in that song, which I've probably listened to hundreds of times, are in that first verse:

We were prisoners of love, a love in chains.
He was standin' in the door; I was standin' in the rain,
with the same hot blood burning in our veins,
Adam raised a Cain. 

I just finished reading Springsteen's autobiography, Born to Run, which I have savored slowly. As a long time fan who owns all of his albums, has seen him about a dozen times live, watched and read many interviews over the years, I came to this book already knowing a lot about Bruce's life. What struck me the most, however, was how well he describes the challenge of being a person "born to run" and one who also very much wanted to learn how to "grow and stay" by tending to relationships at home.

Bruce says again and again in the book that he knows that his life as a rock star, while energizing for him and his fans, is not his "real" life. He was searching for a real life and a real life requires working through relationships with family members in order to better understand who we are.

Bruce writes beautifully about the birth of his three children and trying to do the work of being a better father than his own dad was. He seems to have successfully done that work with his wife, Patti Scialfa as they have built a life together. But along the way, the relationship that Bruce probably needed to heal the most was with his father, who suffered from debilitating mental illness that affected the entire family and in large measure shaped (and scarred) who Bruce was and is today.

For me, the most important and poignant short paragraph in the book comes at the top of page 413 of a 508 page book. These are words that perhaps every person in their own way must come to grips with, since no parent has ever passed on only her or his "good traits" to their children.
We honor our parents by carrying their best forward and laying the rest down. By fighting and taming the demons that laid them low and now reside in us. It's all we can do if we're lucky. I have a wife I love, a beautiful daughter and two handsome sons. We are close. We do not suffer for the alienation and confusion I experienced in my family. Still, the seeds of my father's troubles lie buried deep in our we have to watch. 
I know that musical taste is personal and not everyone is quite the fan of Springsteen that I am. This is what makes the world go round, of course. But what I respect about Bruce goes way beyond the stage. He has spent his life both running and staying, in search of integrity. He knows that "real life" isn't about what happens on the stage, but in the daily decisions we make to be present to those we love and to forgive and to begin again. Bruce has learned a lot of this the hard way. Most of us do.

On a much smaller scale, in my own work as a priest and in the work I do with clergy, it is easy to make the same mistake: to think our "ministries" define who we are; to think we are the "role" both when we are being adored and when we are being criticized by parishioners from one week to the next. We work on much smaller stages than Bruce does, but most of us also yearn for approval and those positive comments at the door after a good sermon.

But in truth we are all called to work first at simply becoming more human, to work at becoming who we are meant to be, within the circumstances of our own unique situations. Adam and Eve still raise imperfect children who then do the best they can do with what life has delivered. Always with God's help.The autobiography explores that human challenge of growing up, of learning to grow and stay with one another, one day at a time. That goes way beyond rock and roll, and also to the very heart of it.

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