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.
That’s an awesome song of memories. When I hear It’s a Beautiful Day I think of driving down Pratt Street in Baltimore on a summer day. I can still see it in my mind’s eye, the bright sun, the terrible traffic, the street lights and sky scrapers. “You love this town, even if that doesn’t ring true. You’ve been all over, and it’s been all over you”. I began my experiences of driving mainly in Baltimore. The Goth club was there. My best friend lived there. The guy I had been dating lived there. And it seemed to me the entire world was there.
At the time I had been dumped by someone too old for me at nineteen. And I was vigorously trying to work out my body because when my “heat hives” came back with a vengence for a period of college I had to go back on anti-histamines which made me gain a lot of weight rapidly. And frankly, I couldn’t run into whats-his-name-who-dumped-me looking over weight and frumpy. I had to get in shape. So I’d do kick boxing until almost my whole body was red like a lobster with hives and I was short of breath, and the trainer, well, he was no good guy like Z. I mean, he meant well and he was a good person (and former women’s self-defense trainer for the state police self defense program), but every time I had to stop to take a break and drink water he always forgot about my health, and I’d have to show him my arms covered in bright red splotches. Then he’d say, “Oh.”
He was six foot four of pure muscle, in his 50s, and wore a shirt everyday of that class that said, “You Can Rest When You’re Dead”. The whole class was comprised of 18 to 20 year old girls. He’d shout like a drill sargent, “Drop down, and gimme twenty!” And duing our push ups he’d yell, “You call that push ups?! Gimme twenty more! REAL push ups this time!” Funny enough– It was actually quite hilarious and inspiring at the same time.
During the semester of this kick boxing class you could tell he was trying his best to really train us to be able to defend ourselves. He was such a strong advocate of women being able to kick some ass. He believed we could do anything with the proper training and proper mind set, and I believed that too.