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The Miracle of Blinding Lights

I don't really know how to start this. It isn't a setlist summary, or rehearsal notes, or even some wild stats found in the database. It's more of a personal essay, and my relationship with a particular U2 song. I don't know if it will be of any interest at all but I felt like with this week-long gap on the tour, and with my only concert being the next one, it was the right kind of time to post something like this. It isn't happy, or easy to read. It certainly wasn't easy to write. But maybe you'll feel like, in some small way, it matters. I hope so.

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

I became a U2 fan at Christmas 2003 after learning about their music about a year before. I was not a music person, and in many ways I still am not. It amazed my peers at the millennium that I didn't know a single N'SYNC song, or that I found S Club 7 supremely irritating (largely because my sister played their album nonstop, I suspect). U2 was the first musical act whose releases I actively sought out myself.

So a year after that point I was excited about a new music release for the first time in my life. I remember sitting next to the radio eagerly waiting to hear Vertigo for the first time on the day it was released; only to be told after an hour or so that the station I was listening to only played songs up to the early 90s (yes, I still knew that little about it). I remember going to U2.com daily for any new news about the album; I still smile when I think back to when all we had been told was the album's initials and one person guessed HTDAAB stood for "Have They Done Another Achtung Baby?"

I also remember when U2.com began streaming some of the new songs; and when I reached the fifth track my jaw figuratively dropped. It was the first song I replayed, and the first song I went back to after listening to the rest. I don't know why that was; maybe because of the introduction which built up my excitement along with the song, maybe because of the piano which I found magical. It still is one of my favourite songs, though now it is for different reasons.

Neon hearts, dayglo eyes
A city lit by fireflies
They're advertising in the skies
For people like us
And I miss you when you're not around
I'm getting ready to leave the ground

One of the reasons I enjoy Bono's lyrics is because they do two things at the same time. They are specific in telling the story that he wants to in the song, but they are also open enough to be about whatever you feel at the time you hear them. City of Blinding Lights is ostensibly about London and New York, but it tells a much more personal story to me.

In my early 20s I was diagnosed (rather late) as being on the autism spectrum, though very highly functioning, with what was at the time known as Asperger Syndrome. Growing up I'd always felt different from my peers; I had no close friends and found it difficult to not just start a conversation but also keep it going. My interests did not align with other people, and I found myself depressed; something that I have struggled with for most of the last decade to the detriment of my education, employment, and life.

Don't look before you laugh
Look ugly in a photograph
Flashbulbs and purple irises
The camera can't see

I can't say that I have ever particularly liked myself. Maybe it's because I didn't understand why I was different, why other people didn't seem to like me. Anytime I looked in the mirror I stared at what I always thought was an ugly face; glasses from a young age, thin and oily hair, a big nose, and a head where facial hair always grew in patchy (at almost 30 I still can't grow a moustache or beard; and for some reason it is a different colour from the hair on my head). It probably didn't help my self-esteem that nobody expressed a romantic interest in me, absolutely devastating to an unhappy teen.

I guess it isn't surprising for you to read that on several occasions I considered suicide? Depression, self-loathing, almost nobody to confide in... I was tired of the pain, tired of being alone, tired of being sad. I suppose there is an irony that in order to end my pain I would have had to inflict more of it on myself. It is said that suicide is the coward's way out, but I was not even brave enough to hurt myself to do it; that fear is probably why I never attempted to end my life. I honestly couldn't even remember what being happy felt like. I completed up to the midway point of my third year of university before it became too much. I stayed in my room, didn't attend classes, and after several years of attempts to finish I ended up dropping out entirely.

Depression is a bitch. A co-worker once told me to "just don't get sad. That's why I'm never depressed." If only it was that easy! Depression is not just sadness; it is a disease just as devastating to a person's mental health as any other that afflicts the brain. I have it, and I try to cope with it. It may not be my fault that I had to drop out; it's hard to attend class when you can barely even leave your bedroom. The Japanese language has a word for that: "hikikomori". It may not be my fault... but I still feel shame about it. Shame that in turn feeds the depression more. It is a vicious cycle.

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?

Because of my self-loathing I have never thought that I had internal beauty. The people who do know me would tell you that I am gifted, gentle, filled with compassion and empathy. I would tell you that I am not smart (if I was, why would I have wasted the giftedness I had?), and filled with a hidden anger and darkness that I never let breach the surface.

But the people I do have in my life don't let up. My two closest friends, my family, and most of all my wonderful wife... they don't let me wallow in my dislike of myself. They see something inside of me that I cannot. They know something that I overlook. And this is where City of Blinding Lights takes on a new meaning.

I've been so depressed that I've spent the better part of two years in one room. I'm fighting it. My clothes of self-loathing may surround me, but they see beneath them to the person I actually am. I wonder what that beauty they see inside me is. I have asked myself for years where that inner beauty went. They have known for years that it never left; my cloak of depression obscures me from seeing it.

And I miss you when you're not around
I'm getting ready to leave the ground
Oh you look so beautiful tonight!

My uncle killed himself when I was in grade 4. I'm told I look very similar to him, and have a similar personality too. It worries my Mum that I will emulate him. But I saw her reaction when she learned the news. I saw how she grieved, and how it continues to affect her all these years later. I didn't really know him myself; the last time I saw him was when I was four or five. That comes with living on opposite sides of the Atlantic I guess.

I may fight my depression, but suicide is still on my thoughts a few times a year when I am emotionally very low. Sometimes I feel like I should attempt it; that my wife would be happier back in her home country without me holding her back; that my family would be glad to stop needing to stress over me. But I never feel ready to leave the ground.

I've never seen such raw grief as when my Mum learned her brother had killed himself. My best friend, someone who I'm so close to that she feels more like a sister, is also one of the biggest U2 fans I know in person. A few years ago her brother killed himself. I was on a short vacation with my wife when she called me and told me. In the same breath she told me that she was pregnant. She had just found out and it was very early on, but she was looking forward to telling her brother. She never got the chance. They had a difficult relationship but U2 was something she shared with her brother. Both of them loved Mysterious Ways in particular. It has been almost 6 years to the day since that happened. She still loves U2, but hasn't been able to listen to them since.

I see their grief. I see how they care. I know that sometimes I feel like nobody would miss me. But I remember those times, and know that they would terribly. I don't know how they would react, but I know that they are sincere when they tell me what they see inside. I only see the negative but they push back with the positive. I've never liked myself, but maybe I should. Maybe I am beautiful inside.

Time won't leave me as I am
But time won't take the boy out of this man

Everybody grows and everybody changes. Contrary to the saying, leopards DO change their spots (look it up). In the past, one thing I was bullied for was continuing to enjoy the same things as I did when I was younger. Strangely this is one of the few things that never has made me feel bad. I was nine when Pokemon was first released. I still enjoy the games and play the new ones when they come out. The first cartoon I remember watching while I lived in England, The Animals of Farthing Wood, remains important to me to this day; I credit it, which was on TV when I was four, with sparking my interest in the natural world and conservation.

If you enjoyed something when you were young and it still gives you pleasure, why should you feel forced to give it up? Why should you limit what you enjoy because of what other people think? I'm not, and never will be, embarrassed to be a Pokemon fan; it's the whole reason I met my wife. The innocence of one's youth is the foundation of a person's inner beauty. I firmly believe that. I may not agree when I'm told nice things, but no matter the passage of time they remain inside of me. They always will be.

The more you know the less you feel
Some pray for, others steal
Blessings not just for the ones who kneel

I am not, and never have been, religious or a believer. I do not believe in the existence of a divine being, whether it be God, Zeus, Huitzilopochtli, or Amaterasu. This may be surprising to a lot of you; it is fairly rare to know an atheist U2 fan, especially given how many of their lyrics and songs delve into religious connotations. As I have grown and learned, I have only had reason to doubt in it. I know religion gives comfort to many, but I see it as being a cause of much of the world's strife and hatred.

I don't say this to make you angry, or start a debate about God. I just want you to know who I am and what I think, for all of this to make sense. I don't know much scripture, but I think that means that no matter how good a person I am in life I am fated to end up in Hell in death because of my lack of faith. That really sucks, quite honestly.

Perhaps I am wrong, though. I don't believe that any religion is correct. Even people in the same denomination will disagree about what certain parts mean. Maybe it is more accurate for me to say that it is religion that is false, and that doesn't mean that God does not exist. I think that what we term God is really just the mathematics that is the foundation of our universe. Does that count as believing in God? I don't know.

This is really turning into more of a rambling tangent. I'll try and sum it up quickly so I can get back to my point. I don't believe that God is a corporeal or incorporeal being who watches over us; I don't believe that Jesus was the divine son of God either. I think he was just someone who said "hey, why don't we try being nice to each other?" and was killed by people who didn't like him saying that. In the end I don't think it really matters either way. To me life is more beautiful because it is the only one we have; I'm not nice to people because I think it will help me get into heaven (not to say that applies to any of you either!), I try to be nice because it is the right thing to do. I'm usually sad and withdrawn from my depression; I don't want other people to feel like I do.

I am always learning, and the more I learn the more I realize how much I still don't know. "The more you see the less you know" and "The more you know the less you feel" are two sides of the same coin. That is why they are the perfect bookends to the song. I may not be a believer, but Bono's lyrics here reassure me that I am still blessed.

I don't pray, and so I certainly don't kneel to pray. But it doesn't matter if I do or not. I'm comfortable with what I believe and do not believe; and I feel deep inside that my relationship with God, and the God that I think exists, is a comfortable one.

I won't go so far as to say that City of Blinding Lights saved my life. In the times where I contemplated suicide it was never in my thoughts. But in years of retrospect I do feel like the song describes me. It may be about London and New York, but when I hear the song I feel my fight against depression, my struggles to accept and love myself the ways that other do.

My first U2 concert opened with City of Blinding Lights. I'm not ashamed to say that I nearly cried. The last ten years have been incredibly hard on me. Many of my dreams burned around me as I sank into depression. At almost 30 I still haven't finished my university courses, I struggle to hold down a stable job, and I regret so many things. But I've grown because of them. The future is still open as long as I move forward. Every concert I see people saying that U2 should take it out of the set, but I couldn't disagree with them more. I think you can see how important the song is to me, and why I will never be upset to hear it live in person. And why I'll be happy to hear it again in Montreal.

I still fight my depression every day. Sometimes it gets better, other times I feel worse. When I am at my lowest I still contemplate death. But I have people who love me, who see things in me that I don't see myself. Friends. Family. Internet acquaintances. I may knock myself down, but they always help me back up. And no matter what, I know that I'm not alone


Posted on by Matkin

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