Perseverance Playlist

[Note: This piece reflects my experience of Thursday, October 29, 2020, one year ago during the descent into our Pandemic Winter. I never finished writing it at the time, but weather conditions this week have reminded me of the experience and compelled me to persevere and complete what I started back then.]

November has come early this year. Dreary, gray, cold, and wet. Rain on rain on rain, drumming on the roof of my bedroom — pushing me deeper into the bedcovers. Never mind the fact that the calendar says it’s still October. It’s an even more November sort of day than that month of the calendar which my heart dreads so terribly because the dark dreariness has come outside of its bounds to hunt me down. It’s the Novembest.

Still, I have a full schedule. Thursdays happen to be one of my busiest days of the week. So I choose to persevere.

I get out of bed and force myself through the morning routine. I launch the “Perseverance Playlist” from my phone’s music app as I step out of my front door, into the rainy morning. I’m layered for maximum warmth, with my outermost layer consisting of (mostly) rainproof gear from my days in Amsterdam. The Low Countries were the place where I grew to fear the low gray skies of November. The rain at this time of the year is seemingly incessant. The darkness crowds in at the front and end of every day. I still carry emotional trauma from those Dutch Novembers.

Coincidentally, the first song to come into my headphones is also from Amsterdam: “We’re Gonna Make It,” by Danny Stimac. Don’t ask me how a Hawaiian artist was able to write so effectively about cold, gray Amsterdam. His lyrics are on point, though. Some of his songs describe the city, but this song describes an escape from the city. An adventure with old friends to a new place. The tune and the lyrics are hopeful: “We’re going to make it. At least by dawn.”

By the time I get to the front part of campus, the song has changed to Mariah Carey’s “Make It Happen.” And frankly, I need the beat to get myself up the hill to Cartwright Hall. I created this playlist towards the end of Marci’s years in graduate school: a collection of anthems to inspire perseverance. And the emotional resonance is surprisingly strong. It puts me right back in that head space from when I put this playlist together — and from my own adolescent angst, when the song was at the top of the charts. I know that Mariah Carey is not particularly known for her lyricism; still this particular song hits just right:

But still I had to keep on going
Never knowing if I could take it
If I would make it through the night
I held on to my faith
I struggled and I prayed
And now I’ve found my way

Mariah Carey, Make It Happen

As I crest the last hill, near Bowman Hall, the music transitions to “2 Legit 2 Quit,” by MC Hammer. It’s a step further back into my 1990s obsession with Hip-Hop music and messages. I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t keep myself from smiling and doing the hand motions that go along with the chorus as I coast down the Esplanade towards the center of campus. The music video featured a bunch of my favorite athletes — including my favorite baseball player, Kirby Puckett. And it’s message is relentless resiliency. For five minutes and 32 seconds (no quit in those 90s songs!).

My destination for the rainy bike ride is the grove of oak trees between Manchester Field and the Centennial Fields, in the heart of Kent State University’s campus. My colleagues Lauren, Jason, Daniel, and Brooke meet me at the grove of trees for our weekly time of prayer for the campus. In this year of COVID-19 restrictions and regulations, prayer feels like one of the most meaningful things we can do for the campus. All our other weekly gatherings with students have been moved outdoors, off-campus, and/or online, following the University’s guidance for student organizations. Five of us standing out in the rain is still allowable. Even if not desirable, considering the conditions.

Prayer is good. Both for the campus and for my own heart. It’s the space where I lean into God for His strength to persevere. The five of us from the H2O Kent Staff Team pray for half an hour and then disperse. I finish with a prayer walk around the Centennial Courts residence halls, like I do every week. And I can’t exactly say that my spirit is lifted by the time that I finish. It’s just too soggy for that. But when I get back on my bike and resume play on my Perseverance Playlist, I know that I’m going to persevere. We’re all going to persevere.

The next song on my playlist is “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows),” by Rodney Atkins. And somehow, the campy country melody feels like an appropriate “Amen” to the time of prayer on campus. The theology of the song is garbage (even though the language is religious). But the tone of the song and its driving rhythm feel helpful. I show that I’m going to keep on going by pedaling and pedaling through the rain, on my way back home.

The last Perseverance Playlist song before I reach my house is “The Weary Kind,” by Ryan Bingham. It’s got a much more mellow vibe. A sad and haunting sort of country song. It makes me want to cry. For my weariness, for the loss of life and lifestyle associated with this pandemic. For the endless gray horizon stretched out in front of me. I grit my teeth as I climb the Main Street hill by the public library, face up into the rain. I don’t like the current circumstances. But I’m not about to give up. “This ain’t no place for the weary kind.”

By the grace of God, our family survived myriad challenges in Amsterdam. We survived Marci’s graduate school. And even on a more fundamental level, I survived childhood, and adolescence, and early adulthood. And seven months of a societal shut-down for this COVID-19 business. Surely, I can keep going for a while longer.

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