The world is never as still as it is on a cold, pre-dawn, January morning. It somehow seems darker than is actually possible. There is no moon or stars to help illuminate the chilly blackness. The only sounds are your tires rushing along the highway. Even those seem muted. There is not another soul on the road.
I remember such a morning many years ago. I was traveling along at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. on my way to a crummy job. I hadn’t passed another vehicle. The road itself was straight without a single traffic light for miles. The only companion on my journey was the radio.
Early, early Sunday morning radio is a unique creature. It is usually the time relegated to community service shows, religious programs or farm reports. They were hardly the thing to keep me awake. I had to find something to occupy myself for the next 30 minutes of the drive.
I started pushing the pre-set buttons on the FM dial. I struck out again and again. After a half a dozen twists of the knob, I finally found some decent music. It was a song by one of my favorite songwriters, Warren Zevon. I relaxed and settled in for the ride.
After the song, the DJ came on. However, it wasn’t a DJ. It was a Catholic priest named Bill Ayres. I was disappointed. I didn’t need a sermon. I just wanted some music. I was in for a surprise. It wasn’t a lecture. It wasn’t a fire and brimstone speech. His tone was casual. He wasn’t trying to sound hip. He was just talking.
He spoke briefly about the last song and began to talk about the next tune. He was talking about faith. I don’t remember exactly what he said, I recall the overall content.
Faith didn’t have to be a religious conviction. Sometimes, before we can have faith in something higher, you need to have faith in yourself. You need to strip away everything until finally, it is just you. At that moment, you can build on that faith.
He had my attention at his point. I was alone with my thoughts as I drove through the cold morning. I couldn’t imagine where Ayres was taking this idea. I listened intently. What he did next, again, took me by surprise. He stopped talking and played a song.
As soon as the track began, I recognized it immediately. It was a song I had heard dozens of times, but never paid much attention to. Now, as I rode down that lonely highway, it was if I was hearing it for the first time. The familiar four note, guitar-driven, hard rock theme roared through the speakers.
The song was “Darkness on The Edge of Town,” by Bruce Springsteen. It was from the album of the same name that had been released a few years before. Undistracted, I listened to the song anew. The lyrics tell the story of a man who loses everything. All his hopes and dreams have been beaten down by life. The music accentuates his anger and frustration.
By the last verse, the narrator stands alone. He has stripped away everything including his wife and money. Instead of turning this defeat into rage, the singer stands his ground. He is ready to find himself once again, but is ready to pay the cost for that goal. He may stand alone, but he is ready to start that journey.
The only way he can begin is to find that faith inside. As the song fades, the initial guitar theme is softly repeated. One can picture the new story starting just around the corner.
I was still a few miles away from work. I spent it just thinking about what happened. When I least expected it, I was given new insight. Something that I thought I knew very well was not as it seemed.
It would be nice to say the sun broke through just at that moment. That the new day made a dramatic entrance just at the song ended. No such luck. It wasn’t necessary. As the frigid winter pre-dawn continued, unchanged around me, I felt that the next few miles wouldn’t be as dark as when I started.