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Come on Rise Up…

October 30, 2007

November 4, 2002. Houston, Texas. Compaq Arena. I was attending a concert with my adult daughter, who was 22 at the time. I was 42 myself – the answer to the ultimate question (life, the universe and everything).

The singer started a song I had not heard before:

Grab your ticket and your suitcase
Thunder’s rolling down the tracks
You don’t know where you’re goin’
But you know you won’t be back
Darlin’ if you’re weary
Lay your head upon my chest
We’ll take what we can carry
And we’ll leave the rest

Big Wheels rolling through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

I felt a wash of heat that went from my head to my toes. I broke out in a sweat. My heart started to pound and I began to cry.

I will provide for you
And I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion for
This part of the ride
Leave behind your sorrows
Let this day be the last
Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine
And all this darkness past

Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

My children were happy and successful. I had been married for five years to my own good companion. I had struggled for years and years to just keep my head above water, to not give up, and now I heard the story of what I had been doing for so long: hoping and dreaming. And all that was behind me now, and I was on the train.

This train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This Train carries whores and gamblers
This Train carries lost souls
This Train dreams will not be thwarted
This Train faith will be rewarded.

We are all, every human, riding the exact same train.

This was the closest thing I had ever felt to transcendence.

Fast forward three and a half years. April 30th, 2006. Closing act, opening weekend, New Orleans Jazzfest. Thousands waited in the pea soup heat and humidity. Allen Toussaint(!) and Elvis Costello(!) kept us distracted while we waited for who we had come to see:  the same singer. At the end of the show, it happened again:

Now the sweet bells of mercy
Drift through the evening trees
Young men on the corner
Like scattered leaves,
The boarded up windows,
The empty streets
While my brother’s down on his knees
My city of ruins
My city of ruins

Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!

Wave of heat.  Heart pounding.  Not just me, but five thousand stood, hands raised, weeping.  Many had no homes.  Some had lost family.  Some had come back from hundreds of miles just for this.  Transcendence.

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