I'm listening to Bruce Springsteen's autobiography Born to Run. It's incredible. The man speaks truth with eloquence again and again.
How can someone be this talented?
One of the aspects of this book that speaks to me most is the way in which he understands the cliff. If you've never stood on the edge of the cliff, it's hard to describe or understand, but once you have stood there, it's difficult - perhaps impossible - to step away, even when all seems right in the world.
The cliff is the place where you have nothing. No money. No home. No future. No hope. The cliff is the end of the line. The place were unbelievable misfortune and unknowing misstep have taken you against your will.
The cliff is the place where you turn around and see nothing. No mother or father standing in support. No childhood home awaiting your return. No safety net waiting to catch you when you fall. There is a wasteland behind you and the cliff ahead you, and there you stand, alone on a sliver of substance in between.
The cliff is the place where you wonder about your next meal. You worry about staying warm. It's the place where you learn to stay low and dodge the law and the lawless. It's where you wrap worry around you like a blanket because it's all you have. The cliff is the place where you endlessly debate how to spend the last $10 that you think you will ever have.
The cliff is the place where you wonder why your life didn't turn out like everyone else's life. It is a place of shame and regret and fear and resignation.
But the cliff is also the place where you find strength. It's the place where every cell in your body universally and unequivocally points in one direction for the first time in your life. You become a being of one purpose. One singular goal. If you do not fall - do not plunge into the abyss as so many will - the cliff is also the place where you can rise up. It's the place where your mettle will be tested, and relentlessness and confidence are forged in the fires of solitude and survival.
Once you stand on the edge of the cliff, I don't believe you ever leave. You stand or you fall. If you stand, you remain in place, feet planted firmly on the edge of oblivion. Someday, you may turn around and discover that you are no longer alone. No longer lost. The wasteland once behind you you is now green and lush and full. But the cliff remains before you. A reminder of what could have been and still could be.
The cliff is both destroyer and salvation. Shame and pride. Fear and courage. The cliff was where I became me, and I believe it is where Bruce Springsteen became The Boss.
Springsteen's second album was abandoned by his record company. Executives at Columbia Records did not believe in his sound, and so they did not support his music. In fact, the actively petitioned against it. Torpedoed it. Fought for its demise.
It could have been the end of Springsteen's musical career. He was standing on the cliff. He faced oblivion. No money. No career. No safety net. Little hope.
Here is what he writes about this moment.
"The basic drift was these guys thought we were just going to go away. Return to our day jobs. Go back to school. Disappear into the swamps of Jersey. They didn't understand that they were dealing with men without homes, lives, any practicable skills or talents that could bring a reliable paycheck in the straight world. We had nowhere to go, and we loved music. This was going to be it. We had come to liberate you, confiscate you, and all the rest."
This is the edge of cliff. Springsteen stood. He remained, and the world is better for it.
If you are standing on the cliff today, please know that you do not stand alone. Hope exists even when it is impossible to see or even imagine. I find myself on this Christmas morning in a warm home, alongside a loving wife and two happy children. I am the teacher and writer that I once dreamed of becoming but never thought I could be. I am more than I ever imagined I could be.
But like you, I am still standing at the edge of the cliff. I will likely be here forever. But today my feet are planted firmly, and that once arid wasteland at my back is now green and lush and full.
It can be like this for you, too. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday.
I am living in my someday. It's a someday I never thought would come.
Stand firm and fight for your someday, an inch at a time if necessary.