It was 1989. I was a twelve-year-old, sixth-grade immigrant in Mrs. Cameron’s Introduction to Computer Class. Jon Villoch, Adriana Ochoa, Jeanette Menendez, Robert Wilson, Daniel Syron, and I, gathered round a table next to our high-tech IBM computers. We were supposed to have been studying BASIC programming language, but we opted to talk about matters way more important to the adolescent mind – pop-culture. The girls and I, for the most part, were Blockheads (New Kids on the Block); while John, Daniel and Robert were headbangers (Metallica, Guns N Roses, Motley Crue). Garbage Pail Kids, Nintendo GameBoy, Batman (the one with Michael Keaton), stone-washed ripped denim jeans, and our raging hormones were common ground. Because I grew up in a Spanish-only speaking home, many of the musicians my peers referenced were foreign to me. The musicians I knew (Julio Iglesias, Jose Luis Perales, Emmanuel), were foreigners to most of my anglo-saxon peers. Sixth grade was my introduction to self-consciousness, angst, and Billy Joel. It wasn’t hard to be smitten with Billy Joel. His song, We Didn’t Start the Fire, possessed everything that captivates the adolescent mind: passion, drama, and energy. Jon Villoch, whom we called Goldilocks because of his curly blonde hair, knew all the lyrics and owned his album (cassette) Storm Front. I was jealous Jon had mastered the rote memorization of Billy Joel’s lyrics, and I made it a personal goal to learn the lyrics as well.
The lyrics, though filled with intensity, were actually meaningless to me. It was merely a list of what seemed to be important world events occurring way before my time. As a twelve-year-old, I was myopic to how their happenings were relevant to my own happenings. In spite of my developmentally detached connection to the historic affairs Billy Joel so zealously crooned about, that moment in time marked a significantly bold point on my time line. I belonged. To a circle of friends who equally shared and diametrically opposed my interests and values. To a small group of people in a massive city whose existence was inconsequential to another group of people in a small distant city. To an age group misunderstood by the age groups that experienced Billy Joel’s lyrics. To a time in the cosmos when the masses on a planet named Earth was encapsulating a decade titled the 80’s, and bridging a futuristic one called the 90’s.
No, I didn’t understand back then, at the age of 12, the link between the past and the present. That philosophical abyss rang true for me in my teen years, and well into my twenties. In my thirties, a spark awakened, and I fully recognized I was never really authentic, interesting, or as revolutionary as I presumed to be. And then 34 happened. A miscarriage. The recognition that life was fragile. At 35, I had the opportunity to give life again. Four months later, my beloved grandmother exhaled her final breath of life. It was at that very moment, while holding my four-month old close to my heart, and witnessing the closing of my grandmother’s eyes for the last time, that I knew my fire was as easily extinguishable as it was combustible. My life, no longer a nebulous trajectory of events, had now shifted to the portion on the electromagnetic spectrum visible to the human eye. I could no longer consciously hide my actions within the shadows of ignorance.
On Saturday, June 4th, I will be running 26.2 miles in Newport, Oregon. I was considering missing the race in order to avoid disappointment and heartache. To avoid seeing numerical results that could possibly trigger feelings of inferiority. Avoid experiencing heartache and the cliche that Life is indeed unfair. To refrain from dealing with the hard truth that sometimes hard work takes a considerable amount of time to payoff, and sometimes, it never pays off the way we intend it to. It can be so easy to remain as ignorantly blissful as the twelve-year-old I once was. When life felt like a joyously vacuous existence wedged between historical time lines of the past and those of the future waiting to be plotted. But I don’t want to be ignorant. I don’t want to purposefully live on the perimeters of the spectrum for fear of visibly failing. I want to feel and experience the passion of Billy Joel’s Lyrics. I want to belong to an age group that reminisces about the 80’s, and shakes its head at the trends of the current youth. To an age group that equally shares and diametrically opposes the values of presidential candidates. I no longer want to just memorize the lyrics. I want to experience them. I want to START THE FIRE.