For the last 8 years, I take this weekly Latin hip-hop dance class. The teacher is this dread-locked, sexy, ultra-talented dancer/percussionist/DJ who choreographs routines to great Latin and Brazilian music I wouldn't otherwise get to hear. Lately he's been playing this version of U2's 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' with a samba beat, and Spanish lyrics--- it's fantastic and grooving and nostalgic all at once. The chorus is in English… as though there's no translation for this lyric.
I remember well when this song came out-- I was fortunate to be a guest on the Lou Reed/U2 tour and I saw from stage left-- at Wembley-- and other massive stadiums, night after night, Bono come out and sing these lyrics with compelling personal passion. Backstage the band was all hanging out with various supermodels-- who knows what was going on in his head-- a young mid-life crisis-- a confession, a genuine plateau of confusion, as often happens when people encounter that kind of massive success: questions rather than answers? He was sweet and adorable and at some kind of peak in every way, and when he sang this song, he made himself vulnerable… it was like an anthem of self doubt.
But it wasn't until this week, doing my little steps and turns, that it suddenly occurred to me that the lyric doesn't mean just this unfinished search for some kind of answer, but maybe the writer hasn't a clue what it is he is even looking for. Seems so simple--- but all these years, I didn't get it.
Anyone observing my dance class would undoubtedly see all kinds of 'lost' people: the tattooed and outfitted girls who are living their Beyonce and Janet Jackson fantasy--- the older Hispanic women who shake their hips with real soul and sexiness, the men who can't seem to get the rhythm in their body-- the over-50 women who bare their midriffs that no one wants to see-- one who wears a leather bustier and even manages a split. It's a little over the top, and one wonders what drives these people… there's significant competition for the front row, and having our teacher grab one of us for a few bars is a coveted reward. I lose myself in the music-- it's exotic and different, and I'm beginning to understand the bass rhythms.
At the end of the class, there's a cool-down to this Brazilian version of a Bryan Adams song. Another guy who, in the late 1980's, was looking for his heaven in the arms of the British princess. He bought himself a house and moved over there, wrote her a couple of songs-- the tabloids printed stories of their affair…who knows? I'm sure he was devastated by her death. I guess he didn't quite know what he was looking for-- neither did the Princess, apparently. Or she knew what she wasn't looking for, which made the royal family uncomfortable.
I never found what I was looking for in London, although I thought I did, briefly. As often happens in life, the answer we find doesn't necessarily take us through the next set of questions. Our lives don't stop-- they roll on endlessly, with our own high and low tides and storms and days of calm. Sometimes what we most want passes us by when we're asleep or obsessing about something useless. We fail to love the person in our path because they don't look exactly like our current version of love, and then it might be too late.
As I get older, I think I spend less time waiting. I used to love the periods in my life when I was pining for some boy or man, crossing off days on my calendar until he came. There was nothing like those days and nights-- they felt lit up, enchanted-- thrilling. But these days, I am inclined to reach out and embrace whatever I find in my path. I love going to flea markets and thrift stores-- you never find anything you want, but the random discovery is what makes these visits amazing. It's like scraping the bottom of some strange ocean with a net and coming up with a shell or a plant or some amazing rock. Useless but day-changing. You take the thing home and it becomes part of you.
I watch people drop off donation boxes to thrift stores-- the book boxes are sad and predictable--- college textbooks, marriage manuals, What to Expect When You're Expecting, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, some Steven King and Joyce Carol Oates, then fitness and diet books, retirement planning, sometimes books about healing or cancer… then self-help books, manuals on depression, dealing with death, meditation tapes-- -a Bible… and there you have it… a man who maybe found what he was looking for, at least on a Barnes and Noble bookshelf,.. and then, like all of us, realized that we have limited options at the end.
Night after night, people dig through our trash on my corner--- looking. People buy Lotto tickets-- it's uncanny the numbers of dollars spent because they believe they are going to win-- that they will be able to have what they are looking for. The belief factor-- is mind-blowing. People of limited income will spend a small fortune over a lifetime… convinced that the next ticket is going to be 'it'.
My rich neighbors seem to have more money than they can count-- -some of them get into collecting. Men buy expensive guitars which they'll never play like a young hungry musician who cannot do anything but play, because he has no choice, and his heart is already full of music. These wealthy guitar owners will never find what he has, but they might look around-- play a little, feel something-- fantasize about a different life. One of my friends tells me she is working at a soup kitchen some nights-- feeding the homeless. She is looking for something, maybe… paring away at her guilt because she is extremely fortunate… and doesn't realize that this system is failing the truly oppressed and underfed… but she is not looking there, not walking through East Harlem at 3 AM and seeing the numbers of bodies looking for cans and bottles, or dreaming under boxes and blankets-- dreaming of something they may or may not have found.
I think I now know it is the looking that matters--- not really the finding. And the richest things we find are rarely if ever the ones we are looking for, because life doesn't work that way. The best we can do is keep postponing the ending, because the finding will go on and on, and that is a gift in itself. It's just a matter of trying not to predict or ask-- and accept the random order of life as it is, because some things are so constant-- the light and dark, the sky, the stars and moon, the seasons, moving the clock back one hour as we will all obediently do this weekend--gaining an extra hour of looking, maybe an hour of shivering in the cold or rain, an hour of love, of music, of a hotel room you have bought for a night of love, of time spent writing a song, of pain, of pleasure, of looking, as I will see it, because it might just be the hour when I will find something I wasn't looking for at all, like a poem, and it will be enough.