At Home Abroad: Are We “Born to Run”?
By Regina Costello
Life’s journey of eternal crossroads forces us to constantly check in with ourselves, that sometimes requires us to make tough choices. Such is the human condition – a struggle and a challenge. Answers and solutions that we find along the road with maturity, experience, and family, bring inner peace and an anchor.
In “Renegades: Born to Run”, a podcast with President Obama and Bruce Springsteen, both came to the conclusion that we are not born to run; rather we can run and should run, but we need to get home too. While the two icons seemingly come from different backgrounds and cultures, the similarities along their paths in life are striking. Both felt lost, both wanted to run, and both struggled to find that sweet spot in life, where one can live with oneself, function in society, and find contentment.
The episode, “Travelling the U.S. and Finding Home,” touches upon this topic, together with the loss of innocence that the 1960s brought to many Americans with the onset of the Vietnam war. Discussion of seeking solace for many, including President Obama and Bruce Springsteen, was found on the open road, days travelling and meandering the length and breadth of the country with fleeting thoughts of settling down, but both fearing the “domestication” element that came with it.
Talk of the never-ending horizon with no planned destination offered a sense of true freedom and with it, the opportunity to reinvent oneself makes for an interesting conversation to listen to. Funny thing though, Bruce only learned to drive when he was 24 years old. The prior ten years found him hitch hiking across the U.S. of A.
The universal belief that the grass is always greener elsewhere affected President Obama and created in him a need to leave beautiful Hawaii, and to see the mainland. Traveling with his mother and grandmother via plane to Seattle, then by bus to San Francisco, a train to Arizona, with a stop in Kansas and a visit to Chicago, gave him a true understanding of the vastness of this great land.
The President recollects that experience with thoughts of “man, imagine where you can go…you can do anything, be anybody.” The two share stories of young adulthood, beat up cars that conked out frequently, no cell phones and no accessible help at hand.
Neither had money, and through encountering these and other hardships found glimpses of their souls, learned to enjoy the surprises and adventures of life while trying to come to terms with the nagging need behind it all, that one day they knew they would have to settle down somehow, and somewhere. Such thoughts arose along the darker patches of road – the loneliness and uprooted angst. Both philosophize about the opportunities they were both afforded in different ways, and how they found mentors and guides to show them the way on life’s journey.
Feeling ill prepared for the adult life, which is settling down, creating a home and future in a committed relationship, enter the conversation. They felt that the symbols and heroes of male adulthood at that time were personified in characters like John Wayne, who saved the town but never stayed. The “man” always moved on.
Springsteen and President Obama both resonated with this symbol of the adult male and felt that life did not prepare them for true adulthood. Both tried to escape it by staying on the move. Bruce shares that he eventually crashed psychologically and found himself in a therapist office, where he broke down and cried for a solid ten minutes. He wanted to have his cake and eat it – he wanted to be free but also deep down felt the need to put down roots in his 30s.
Acknowledging his fears that day and opening a scary can of worms forever changed his life. He got married and found a way to keep what he deemed to be his freedom. He continued to take to the road and ride into the sunset on his motorbike. Most importantly, he was able to come home and wanted to come home. President Obama responds to him by saying, “we need to run, but we need to come home too.”
President Obama found his roots and home with Michelle, whom he describes as the embodiment of a place and community. With her, he could see all the parts of life coming together, and Hawaii being a part of that, despite the fact that he wanted to leave the island.
Both in this conversation expressed the importance of the feeling of being American, and when they first felt this strong pride. For Bruce it was reciting the pledge of allegiance that indicated a sacredness for him. For President Obama it was the landing of the Apollo Program Capsules in the Pacific. He sat on his granddad’s shoulders looking into the sky and believed him when he said Neil Armstrong was waving to him.
He was six years old, but proud and aware that they were fellow countrymen, and felt grounded by this thought. As he traveled overseas to Indonesia, to a life very different to what he was used to, he became acutely patriotic and appreciative of the many things taken for granted in this country – democracy, a clean environment where diseases like rickets and polio no longer exist but plague poor countries like Indonesia. It made him feel, “glad I was born under this flag.”
Listening in on these conversations between these two men, both giants, sharing stories about hardships experienced while growing up, mental health and anxieties along the way, struggling to fit into a society that can be prejudiced in many ways to all types of people, serve as a reminder that we are not alone trying to figure out this thing called life. Both acknowledge much of their success to a huge ego, true grit and an unrelenting desire to make the American dream available to all, while recognizing the importance of airing the ails in our society and paying tribute to the bread and butter of America – the working class that toil every day to provide for their families.
I think we need to run to find ourselves. We can run in different ways; we can immigrate; we can take to the road; we can change cities; we can run from our families. Sometimes we feel the need to do these things and it can be hard to do at times. Sometimes the right decision is the more difficult choice. After some running, we will recognize the proverbial fork that is ours to take. That is the road home, which looks different for all of us. We are lucky if we find it and enjoy the solace and anchor that it provides. Never in a million years did I think I would run from Ireland to the U.S. and take root in my new home abroad. While I was not born under this flag; I am glad to be living under it – in my home abroad.
Sources consulted: Spotify: Renegades – Born in the U.S.A.
*Regina is a postgraduate from the National University of Ireland. Former Curator with the Irish American Archives Society, former Executive Director of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Commission and former Executive Coordinator of the Northern Ohio Rose Centre. Director on the Boards of the Mayo Society of Greater Cleveland and The Irish American Charitable Foundation. She resides in the Greater Cleveland area with her husband and together enjoy their family of two spirited teenagers and beloved wheaten terrier. She would love to hear from you and can be reached at [email protected]