U2’s song is generally happy and upbeat, but it’s an example for me of how personal associations can account for at least part of the emotional attachments and reactions we have to songs. This song is one I heard a lot a few years ago in indoor cycling classes at the Y. I had recently moved to Florida and was in a new life over my head. I was being bullied at work and facing the truth about some less-than-ideal career choices. I was lonely in a strange city. But I was also still in a phase where I believed I could do anything I set myself to do. When “It’s a Beautiful Day” would come on toward the end of a spin class, I would sprint to the finish, strong.
So, with the encouragement of the greatest spin teacher in the world, a fellow who went by the nickname of Z, I decided I would train for an outdoor charity bike ride. Z’s business sponsored races, and he encouraged us to get out of the dark room and ride real bikes outdoors. I knew I couldn’t realistically race, but I could ride. So I signed up to do 50 miles for the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure.
This was pretty momentous for me. Although I have always been active, I have never been athletic. I don’t believe I’ve ever competed in a sporting event. Oh, that’s not true. I won a red ribbon in a horse show once when I was twelve or thirteen. There are many people with Type 1 diabetes who do compete and who are athletic, but for me the illness itself was always enough of a physical challenge. I rode horses, I jogged, I walked, I hiked, I practiced yoga, I even lifted weights to stay in shape, but I never took it a step further.
Z inspired me to do so, and a couple of my indoor cycling pals signed up for the ride as well. One of my graduate students signed up. My old friend Sally, who is a real athlete, decided to come down from Maryland and ride with me. I “trained” for several months, which included many long weekend rides with my then-boyfriend, now-husband. It was a great time for me—all the support, the sense of accomplishing something new even though middle aged, the power of being fit, and the drawing attention to a good cause.
The day of the race dawned chilly and windy, and I was filled with doubts that I could do it. Who was I kidding? I was terrified of traffic, and this ride wound through country towns outside of Orlando, filled with barking dogs and intermittent traffic, stop lights and unclear turns. The people managing the race were completely uninterested in the fact that they had a diabetic riding for diabetes—and it was clear that most of the people riding did it for the riding not the cause and that it was a macho culture. Perhaps worst, the snacks provided along the way were cheap and disgusting—dry cookies and brown bananas—and I knew that I’d have low blood sugars.
But we all persevered. I nearly fell off the bike once at a stop light where I forgot my feet were clipped to the pedals. My blood sugar did reach a low point of 55, and I had to ride on, shaking and sucking on a juice box. And Sally decided that the 100 miles she’d signed up for were too much. But we all made it to the finish, where better snacks and massages awaited us. It was a triumphant day.
Unfortunately, within a few weeks I’d developed a painful condition called adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder. Months of medical mistreatment and long, sleepless nights of pain later, I was a walking zombie and as out of shape as I’d ever been. In the three years since, I have seen orthopedists, osteopaths, physical therapists, and medical massage therapists. And I finally found my way to swimming, which always helps loosen up my permanently stiff shoulders. I have continued to exercise, but only off and on, never as steadfastly as in my training phase.
So when I hear “It’s a Beautiful Day” now I am reminded of that great season in my life, but also that I no longer am there. Sometimes it makes me feel terribly old, as though I’ll never be in such good condition again. I can get a tear in my eye thinking about the regret implicit in “Don’t let it slip away” and the over-compensation in “What you don’t have, you don’t need it now, What you don’t know, you feel somehow.”
But I also get tears of determination in my eyes. One of the great things about Z as a teacher was that he recognized the challenges we each faced. To me, he would always say, “Roney, you’re an animal. You never give up.” And he would tell me that it wasn’t triumph that mattered, but coming back again and again even though I’m not the perfect athlete and never will be.