Back in the spring, before things began heating up between Jonathan and I, we decided that together with our friend Rob we’d buy tickets to see U2 at the Staples Center. None of us had seen the band in concert and we’d have to wait months before the anticipated concert date arrived. By fall 2001 a lot of things in the world had changed. Jonathan confessed he wanted to date me. Rob decided to sell his ticket. And, worst of all, two huge towers had fallen from Manhattan’s skyline.
Just a few weeks after September 11, on a cold and rainy Tuesday, the long awaited concert date arrived. Jonathan and I ditched class and slowly made our way down Highway 101 in my Pontiac Sunbird convertible. It was a scary little car in the rain, so he drove. We sat in the chaos of Los Angeles’ congested freeways, excited for the band we’d both been waiting to see but also a bit nervous. I’d seriously considered selling my ticket after learning Rob sold his. I loved spending time with Jonathan, but things were different now that I knew he liked me. We were just friends, but was there a spark? And, more importantly, could he be the man other boyfriends had not been?
I remember analyzing—“Is this a date?”—and then assuring myself it wasn’t because we’d planned it so long ago, and I’d paid my own way.
But it was a date, and I knew it as soon as we sat down at our nosebleed seats and gazed down at the heart shaped stage. I knew it when, before the lights went dim, he leaned in close for a photo. And I knew it when the stadium went black, the camera flashes lit up like stars, my heartbeat immediately joined the drum’s familiar rhythm of expectation.
A lot of moments about that concert are still clear to me, but nothing sticks out more than the song One. I’d never heard it until that night, and it begins differently than other U2 songs I grew up listening to. There is no lengthy prelude, no building anticipation. It’s slow and lacks the familiar drums.
Screens dropped down as the song started and names appeared. They belonged to nearly 3,000 people presumed dead in the September 11 attacks. Their names scrolled quickly, one after the next, as a haunting voice filled the arena.
One love, one blood
One life you got to do what you should
One life with each other
One life but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other
A lot of people think One is a song about romance, to which Bono has responded, “Are you mad?” Instead, the band members have said, “It is a song about coming together…It’s not saying we even want to get along, but that we have to get along together in this world if it is to survive. It’s a reminder that we have no choice.”
My favorite part of the song, a line I have come to love since that moment, is when Bono sings, “We get to carry each other.” We don’t have to carry each other, but we get to. We get to offer grace, if we so choose.
For a brief time after 9/11, we looked up from our familiar, secure lives and realized the world as we knew it had changed. I think our nation chose to carry each other that fall. I certainly felt this spirit of unity in an arena filled with thousands—even if it was just for a fleeting moment. And, I felt a connection with a boy who’d been pursuing me so long, who recognized my fears, and offered me grace to heal in the ways I needed. I would still need more time, but that night was when I first felt something bigger than the music itself.
After the concert, the night sky surprisingly clear, we rolled down the top of my convertible. I turned up the heater as we cruised back up the highway towards Santa Barbara. I wanted to reach for his hand, but didn’t. Later he told me he wanted to reach for mine, but didn’t either. On the radio, U2 played softly. Life was slipping into a new season again. I looked out the window and thought about where we’d come from and where we might go.