I heard U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” on my iPod last week and have been thinking about it ever since. Just a few notes of it and my reaction was visceral—I was overwhelmed by a memory.
When Hudson was seven weeks old, Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of the United States. Ed and I had campaigned for Obama all through the fall, raising money and knocking on doors and, on Election Day (with me 8 months pregnant), helping make sure that every person who wanted to vote would be able to. We met Joe Biden and Michelle Obama both, and impressed upon them how important it was to us that they win the White House, because if they didn’t, we feared for the world into which our first child would be born. I remember feeling my heart in my throat on our election night drive back from Richmond, where we were doing voter protection, when even our home state of North Carolina turned blue.
Jessica had come for a visit during the inauguration and while we decided not to brave the inauguration itself, we decided we’d go to the mall for the inaugural concert the day before. It was cold but not nearly as cold as it was on Inauguration Day. We bundled Hudson up into a warm winter suit, tucked her into the bucket car seat and stuffed all kinds of blankets around her. There were points where I was more worried that she was too hot than too cold. We took her on her first ride on the metro and once we got down to the mall, I sat on the grass and nursed her as if such a thing was totally normal. She promptly fell asleep and did us the favor of staying asleep the rest of the afternoon, even in the midst of all the din, waking only on the train back home but still not fussing.
Lots of stars sang at the inaugural concert, but none was so anticipated or cheered (at least by me) as U2. I had heard the expression “their spirits soared” before, but I’m not sure I’d ever truly experienced what that meant until I heard the first chords of “City of Blinding Lights,” the second song U2 played (after “Pride (In the Name of Love)”). I remember so clearly hearing Bono say what an honor it was for four boys from North Dublin to be there honoring the future president of the United States with a song he had chosen for his campaign. When Bono looked out over the crowd of hundreds of thousands of people and sang, “Oh, you look so beautiful tonight,” I remember thinking it must be true.
When I hear the song now, I still physically remember that feeling of my spirit soaring in that moment. Hudson’s birth had changed me forever and I had nothing but hope and optimism about our future together as a family. And standing there on the mall with all those people, our faces shining brightly from both the cold and the electricity in the air, I had nothing but hope and optimism for our country and the world.
So much has changed in not even three short years. So much. As I was preparing to write this post, I did some reading about “City of Blinding Lights.” I guess I was not even that surprised to learn that Bono has called it a song about “innocence and naiveté,” that its theme is innocence lost.
Can you see the beauty inside of me?
What happened to the beauty I had inside of me?
And the thing is, I can still see the beauty, and I still have hope. I hear that song, and it takes me back to a very distinct moment in my life, a time when my sweet girl was alive, when we were full of hope and expectation for her future, for our future. And although our lives are radically changed in the wake of Hudson’s death, even though I may never know hope in the same way again, I can still touch that place inside of me that knew that kind of hope. I have music to thank for that, and I’m grateful.
Some photos of our trip to the mall that day, and a video clip, from somewhere not too far from our vantage point, of U2’s performance: