Do you have one of those songs that's so closely associated with a memorable event in your life that hearing it again, no matter how many years later, mentally transports you back in time?
For me that song, aptly titled, is Jethro Tull's "Living in the Past." I heard it the other day, and the emotions poured forth as raw as the day when I first became aware of the song, more than three decades before.
The year was 1972, and my family had just moved from Indiana to Delaware. I had begun the new school year — ninth grade — far from the friends I had grown up with and loved. I wanted desperately to fit in, but, as so often happens at that awkward age, I found myself a stranger in a strange land.
I thought that I could perhaps make some inroads through sports. After all, I had been something of a neighborhood jock back in Indiana. So I tried out for the basketball team.
Football had really been my sport, but of course there was no girls' football team. Nevertheless, I was a halfway decent basketball player, or so I thought. I was stunned the first day of tryouts to find that what had passed for good in the old neighborhood was merely mediocre among my new Delaware peers. Those girls could play.
Still, I worked hard during the tryouts, and although I might not have stood out as the best shooter or defensive player, I felt like I put 110 percent into it, and hoped my spirit counted for something with the coach.
The results of who made the cut were to be posted on a certain day — I do not remember the day of the week, only that I happened to be sick on that day and had stayed home from school. So my mother, ever the good sport, went over to the school to check the list, which was taped to the drab cinder-block walls of the gymnasium off whose walls I had hoped to hear the cheers echo.
I remember hearing Tull's "Living in the Past" on the radio just before my mother returned home. I was curled up on the sofa, a mix of anticipation, excitement and dread fighting for control of my body. I heard the front door open, and then my mother entered the room where I lay, the look on her face saying it all. "I'm sorry," she said, shaking her head ever so slightly sideways.
There are plenty of worse things in life than not making the junior high school basketball team, but on that particular day, you would have had a hard time convincing me of it. The weight of defeat was crushing, just before the numbness set in — a state that I managed to maintain for the better part of my freshman year in my new school.
I offer this story not for pity's sake because, as I noted, it was no big deal in the grand scheme of things. I bring it up only because I'm curious about the impact that failures or defeats or setbacks have on others. Somehow to me they loom so much larger than the successes along the way.
In my basement is a whole case full of skiing trophies that I've earned in giant slalom races over the years. Funny, but I don't recall any of the songs that were playing on the radio as I drove home from the slopes, basking in the thrill of victory.