I have a confession to make. A confession possibly worthy of those cool ZooTV video confessional things. …Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s still a confession. Are you ready? If not, I’ll wait.
Ready now? Okay, let’s do this! Here it goes: I’m a huge fan of professional wrestling.
Was that what you were expecting? No? Me, either. I’m still not sure how I fell into this particularly odd obsession, but I can tell you that I blame my brother and my madre.
But by now I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with U2. You may even be questioning my sanity right now…and you’d be right. But this story does have a moral, and it is this: Bono crops up even in the oddest and most unexpected of places.
Just a couple weeks ago, the familia and I went to our second-ever pro wrestling event. It was an NXT house show (it’s okay if you don’t know what that means; just know that it was very cool), and the highlight of the night was the very end, where the main five stars got together for an epic and historic curtain call, each of them knowing that it very well might be the last time they worked together for a very long time. They embraced, they danced, they posed, they flashed esoteric hand signals…and they just had a moment of simple, unbridled, poignant fun…and love, for their careers and for each other. And as I watched them, one line from one song kept repeating, echoing over and over again in my mind.
Flashback to an hour or two earlier in the night, before the great curtain call, when my brother and I were sitting there during the intermission, struggling to catch our breath (there’s a reference there, by the way). After snapping a couple of dorky photos, we just relaxed there in our seats, watching the crowd and listening to the music being played over the arena’s speakers. We were overwhelmed by everything we’d seen, but we were still anxiously waiting to see our newest hero: Finn Bálor.
Yes, he’s Irish. And that fact made it all the more breathtaking when, after enduring a stream of subpar-to-decent heavy metal tunes piped in over the house speakers, my faulty ears managed to pick up on the tinny notes of a keyboard. It took a second for my mind to register what I was hearing, and by the time I turned to my Moogie to tell her what was happening, the lights were already dimming and the song was cut off right in the middle of a beautiful Irish vocal. But I still had recognized one of the songs that had sucked me into loving U2 in the first place, the song that’s still my favorite track from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.
And when those five performers shared their grand, poignant moment of love and farewell, all I could think was, “Oh, you look so beautiful tonight…in the city of blinding lights.”
That’s what this song means to me: celebrating the beauty of the moments here and now, because they won’t last forever.
The first verse tells us, “The more you see, the less you know. The less you find out as you go. I knew much more then than I do now.” Truth will always be stranger than fiction, and in life, there will always be things that challenge your expectations. Even when experience guides you and you think you can’t find anything new to learn, something will always be there to surprise you—and even a small moment can change everything. A moment like saying goodbye to a friend, like moving on from something you used to know, or like watching someone else have a transformative experience, can shift your entire frame of mind in an instant.
There are some people who light up a room as soon as they walk in. People like Bono, people like Finn Bálor.
“Neon heart, Day-Glo eyes, city lit by fireflies… They’re advertising in the skies for people like us.” There are some people who light up a room as soon as they walk in. People like Bono, people like Finn Bálor. People who make you believe that anything is possible, that any dream can be achieved. The people who can make their dreams a reality call to the rest of the world, and they call to the people who follow their dreams like moths to a flame. As someone with big dreams, I like to think that that’s what Bono means when he talks about “people like us.”
“And I miss you when you’re not around… I’m getting ready to leave the ground.” To me, that sounds like Bono is leaving home, maybe talking to his children and his wife before going off once again to pursue his dreams. The second verse also sounds like he’s addressing his loved ones: “Don’t look before you laugh, look ugly in a photograph…” This sounds like another encouragement to forget the appearances of things, to forget their preconceived notions of what should and shouldn’t be, and to instead live in the here and now, enjoying the moment regardless of what anyone else might think.
The next section of the verse speaks to this same point: “I’ve seen you walk unafraid. I’ve seen you in the clothes you made. Can you see the beauty inside of me? What happened to the beauty I had inside of me?” This part of the song again talks about loved ones who are unafraid of being who they are and are willing to show their true selves to the world; after all, the personalities we show to the outside world are the “clothes” and the masks we make to reveal or disguise the soul inside.
But Bono’s question here is poignant: what happens to inner beauty if it’s hidden for too long? What happens to us when we give up on our dreams and possibilities, and what happens when we cease to enjoy life? Nothing lasts forever, but I like to think that a spirit of beauty can always be recovered.
It seems that Bono thinks so, too, because he goes on to say, “Time won’t leave me as I am, but time won’t take the boy out of this man.” No matter what, he refuses to give up on the part of his spirit that enjoys life, the spirit that is still capable of child-like wonder and beauty.
“The more you know, the less you feel. What some pray for, others steal. Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel…luckily.”
I had a hard time figuring out the last lines of the song, and in a way, it’s still hard for me to really understand what Bono might be trying to say. I’m sure that the way I think of this line will change over time, as I grow and learn more about the world and about U2. But for right now, at this present moment in time—right now, it sounds to me like flashes of insight come from a variety of places.
Like Bono, inspiration can pop up anywhere, usually when you least expect it and most need it. The more you know, the less you feel, because at first it seems that with experience, the potential for having this kind of shocking transformative moment lessens. But the truth is that blessings come to you whether you ask for them or not, and life-changing moments—big and small, happy and sad, things that change many lives and things that change just you—can be found whether you look for them or whether you “steal” them from what first seemed to be an ordinary day.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, if this song is telling us to enjoy the present moment and get as much out of life as we can, then the last lines of the song are encouraging us to make our own luck. If you can’t find what you’re looking for (there’s a reference there, too, but it’s way too obvious), then stop looking for it and create it with what you have. One of my Moogie’s favorite quotes is this: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn’t there, it isn’t anywhere, and I never really lost it to begin with.” That’s some classic Wizard of Oz for you (thanks, Wikiquote!), and it sums up what this song is saying, I think.
The beauty that’s inside of you is still there. The things that make you special are still there, and so are all the things you know and the things you feel. All the photographs and memories and spectacular moments are still inside of you. And you can use your happiness to make any little moment—whether it be an ugly photo op, a rock concert, or even a professional wrestling match—into a beautiful one.
Don’t wait for inspiration to find you. Don’t wait until you finally reach the city of blinding lights. Enjoy the journey and don’t be afraid to go wherever the road takes you. Because after all, the world is made for people with hopes and dreams—the people just like us.