A Work in Progress

Bono, Sikh and Flag

“Democracy is the greatest thing in the world,” said Bono last night to a crowd which, judging by the eruption of cheering that followed, agreed with him.  “But it takes work – a lot of hard work.”  And as The Edge began the teasing trickle of echoing notes that led into the next song, my eyes suddenly filled with tears.

I didn’t know why at first.  Maybe I was just overwhelmed by being here, in the presence of one of the most accomplished and complex musical groups of our time, and my personal favorite.  Maybe it was late at night and I’d had too much Guinness.  Or maybe it was the words of the song that poured forth over the crowd, taunting, urging us to sing along:

I have climbed highest mountains; I have run through the fields, only to be with you.
I have run; I have crawled; I have scaled these city walls, only to be with you.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

The music was thrilling, moving, but the lyrics troubled me.  They seemed to trivialize the things I find most fulfilling in life: love and marriage, the beauty of nature, the depth of faith.  If you’re not looking for those things, what in the world are you looking for?

By the end of the first verse, the crowd was singing so loudly that Bono put down his microphone and stretched out his arms, allowing them to finish the chorus as he soaked in the words:

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

He took the mike back, smiling: “We’re a work in progress,” he said.

And suddenly, I got it.  What we’re looking for, what we’re aiming for, is perfection.  We will never find it, of course, but we continue to look.  Sometimes we look outside of ourselves, and there we will be disappointed: even on the greenest hillside, in the sweetest kiss, after the most stirring final paragraph, there is a moment when we realize this can’t last, and that moment is utter and absolute defeat.  Even the best concert of my life, the one I’ve waited for since I bought my first U2 album at fourteen, is riddled with ugly flaws: traffic on the way, sniping words between friends, a faulty cup that dumped chocolate milkshake on my lap, scrambled cell-phone service, tired feet.  This is life.

So we look again, inside ourselves – and there, too, we will always fall short.  The next morning I had to drag myself out of bed and to class after very little sleep and even less of a speaking voice.  And, of course, none the articles for the newspaper were properly formatted, and student after student approached me with excuses and special cases and problems I couldn’t solve – you need a therapist, not a teacher, and you need a set of parents who will teach you responsibility, and pardon me, but you just need a good thrashing – and then none of the computers in the lab would run the program correctly, and they all pleaded with me to just play a game, please?  We don’t really need to study, do we?  Come on, Mrs. Lowe, there’s only thirty minutes left in the period anyway.

It’s easy to lay blame on the circumstances and the tools, but really, it’s my fault.  If I were on top of things, I would have found a way to be prepared – or at the very least, I would have a backup plan.  If I were a better teacher, I would have found a way to teach the lesson despite the problem students technology glitches.  Instead, I limped through the day, trying to keep goofing off to a minimum while I formulated a new plan of action.  And I silently pleaded with the clock to move just a little faster.  Please, let this day be over so I can try again.

Being a work in progress is no fun.  It’s much more fulfilling to be perfect.  Why can’t I be perfect, just for once?  Just for one day, or one hour, let me find what I’m looking for.  Something, anything, besides another struggle.

You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains, carried the cross and took my shame, you took the blame – you know I believe it.  But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

Not here, anyway.  Not in this life.