Stop This Train

A great song by John Mayer, which I’ve been reflecting on quite a bit over the last several months. It goes like this:

No, I’m not colorblind
I know the world is black and white
Try to keep an open mind
But I just can’t sleep on this tonight

Stop this train
I wanna get off
And go home again
I can’t take the speed it’s moving in
I know I can
But honestly, won’t someone stop this train?

Don’t know how else to say it
Don’t want to see my parents go
One generation’s length away
From fighting life out on my own

Stop this train
I wanna get off
And go home again
I can’t take the speed it’s moving in
I know I can
But honestly, won’t someone stop this train?

So scared of getting older
I’m only good at being young
So I play the numbers game
To find a way to say that life has just begun

Had a talk with my old man
Said “help me understand”
He said “turn sixty-eight
You renegotiate”

“Don’t stop this train
Don’t for a minute change the place you’re in
And don’t think I couldn’t ever understand
I tried my hand
John, honestly we’ll never stop this train”

Once in awhile, when it’s good
It’ll feel like it should
And they’re all still around
And you’re still safe and sound
And you don’t miss a thing
Till you cry when you’re driving away in the dark
Singing

Stop this train
I wanna get off
And go home again
I can’t take the speed it’s moving in
I know I can
Cause now I see I’ll never stop this train

I think what hits me the hardest is the father’s advice, “Turn sixty-eight, you’ll renegotiate.” I take it to refer to renegotiating the son’s expectations of life. The song itself speaks mostly about his fears of getting older and losing the freedoms and comfort of being young, but to me it also includes taking on the responsibilities of being a man, my plans and dreams, as well as what I expect life actually to have in store.

I feel like a lot of my life over the last three-plus years has been a process of renegotiating – or avoiding the reality that needs to be renegotiated. And I think renegotiating is probably the hardest thing a young man with huge ambitions and big dreams has to do. It’s certainly been the hardest thing I’ve had to do so far. When I listen to this song I relate to the feeling – stop the train, this isn’t how I expected things to go, everything’s supposed to work out and not stay difficult. What happened to being safe and sound and surrounded by friends and family?

And I’m struck every time by the father’s advice about renegotiating –

“Don’t stop this train
Don’t for a minute change the place you’re in
And don’t think I couldn’t ever understand
I’ve tried my hand
John, honestly we’ll never stop this train”

He speaks from the authority of having already gone through the same experience of renegotiating, and of his process he only says, “I’ve tried my hand” – without saying if it went well or not for him. His advice then is essentially, don’t quit the process. I think I’d rather hear – everything will turn out how you hope it will. But instead it’s only – who knows, just don’t check out.

And for me, that’s been about the hardest thing to do. When life is this difficult for this long without many payoffs, the last advice I want to hear is “just keep going.” Checking out is about all I want to do some days. There’s sadness and anxiety for me in this also – as well as frustration, anger, and fear. Sometimes I can rally hope and motivation and put forth some effort towards the things I’m missing/hoping for – valuable community, a deeper relationship with God, a new job, even a new job back in New England. But most days I’m just frustrated by it all. I’ve had my dreams shelved since we came to Cincinnati, and I feel that, in one form or another, every day.

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