Last Friday, June 22nd, I saw U2 in Boston. A bucket list item for sure but I wasn’t prepared for what Bono was throwing down. Or was I?
As I am sure everyone knows, Bono is an activist, a humanitarian of exquisite stature. He is a Christian, too. To say he feels strongly about what he believes in is putting it lightly. Mix in a few gorgeous lyrics, the best concert production money can buy, and a crowd full of Irish descendants, and you’ve got the makings of a church, the sermon, the steeple, and I dare say it, being saved. In the old days, they called it being ‘slain in the Spirit.’ I would say that Bono missed his calling to become a preacher but then no. He did not.
At first, as we were *pretty high up in the seating,* I thought I was going to have to leave as there was a humongous speaker right in front of us. My eardrums were screaming for mercy. But luckily that was just the first song, a techy-sounding new one that was ‘okay.’ If you were in 7th grade sometime in the 1980’s, then you too would want to hear the old stuff just like I did. Of course, the new songs worked on me, just like the sermon.
I can’t possibly (adequately) describe the journey Bono and the boys took us on: the themes of the hero’s journey, the teachings of experience vis a vis innocence (the conception of this particular tour), the light show, the tidbits of graphic novel touching on the four members respective initiations as they were coming into fame and fortune (which were cast upon a very large video screen). I can’t possibly describe to you the video of white supremacists which played during “In the Name of Love (Pride)”—not because I can’t describe it but because I can’t replay that repulsiveness in my head to get the words down. Tears of pain streaked my face by the end of that song, images of Martin Luther King, Jr. standing behind a podium on the mall in our country’s capitol flashing upon the screen.
About half-way through the show (it wasn’t a concert, it was an experience), Bono put on a black top hat and transformed into an eerie ringmaster, circus lights blinking around himself, Adam, Larry and The Edge. What else could complete this picture but a bull horn designed to look like the American flag. I’m not sure what was for sale in the concession area but if American flag bull horns were there, I would have bought one. Or 10. The message was not lost on me: Wake the Fuck Up America.
U2’s music often summons its listeners to wake up—to others’ suffering, to the environment, to the pain and joy of love and most often, to injustice. That message was no different than it’s been over the 30 years U2 has been at this music gig/sermon thing. But what struck me as the most poignant was Bono’s passionate and somewhat child-like charge: If fighting injustice can happen anywhere, it is in America. You people have the tools, and it’s this handy little thing called Democracy. A mini-lesson in The Troubles, Ireland’s fight for freedom, was projected and the preacher reminded us that nothing is given to you. Nothing is guaranteed. You have to fight for freedom and you must know the consequences of taking it for granted.
As an empath, I have to be careful how much noise I take in from the chaos-world we’re living in. Like many folks, I need to go on social media diets and avoid newspapers and television at all costs. Otherwise, my ears would be screaming for mercy one hundred percent of the time and do I want to live like that?
What I heard Bono saying was this: You might not have that luxury one day. America was a dream, it was constructed as a dream with the highest ideals of personal and collective freedoms in mind. Because I am a white, middle-class, middle-aged woman, I have (for the most part) enjoyed that dream and all it has afforded me. And I haven’t had to think too much about what life would be like without the dream firmly in place.
But the poison of falling asleep will trickle down to every last one of us. I am still contemplating and reviewing clear action steps as to how to combat the injustices I see and feel. In my gut, it feels like electing candidates who you think will fight for the freedoms you hold dear isn’t enough. Neither is calling Senator Collins or marching down Congress Street for a rally.
Or is it? The preacher-man I saw last Friday night in Boston suggests that doing nothing will only ensure a fall. Trembling in the rearview will do no one any good.
And so I am reminded of Dr. Cornel West’s summation of our dear, fragile United States: An experiment in Democracy. He wrote that description several years ago now. I had the good fortune of seeing Dr. West speak at my alma mater, Colorado State University, in 1992. Those words stuck with me, as did his erudite intellect and general charisma.
Is it a good thing or a scary thing that America-as-Experiment is still an accurate way to describe our country?