U2 opened their 2018 Experience + Innocence tour with the obtrusive sound of an MRI machine running while images of an MRI scan of a brain flash across the screen. Then the opening song begins — “Love Is All We Have Left,” the moving opening track to their 2017 album, Songs of Experience. I have loved this song from the moment that I heard this album — it relies more on the strength of Bono’s gorgeous voice to carry it rather than the music — but hearing this song live, in the context in which it was presented, haunted me. I certainly know what an MRI sounds like… and I know what a brain scan looks like… And at this point in my life, after having lived every few months of my life on edge waiting for the results of an MRI, I totally connected with this opening.
I saw U2 this year at their two shows in Chicago on May 22 & 23. Crow came with me to the first show, but it was too loud for him now — he’s been very sensitive to sound since his last round of radiation in January — and even with his ear plugs in, he couldn’t take it. So I went to the second show solo and he was happy to spend the evening hanging around our B&B. It was the last trip we took before everything went really south. We did spend sometime together during the day on the 23rd, sight-seeing at the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Notebaert Nature Museum. I made him do a lot of walking around town… and little did I know that in a few short weeks, he’d no longer be able to walk, even at his slow pace.
Anyway, due to my state of mind at both shows, I was profoundly affected by the opening. It got me the first night when I didn’t know what to expect; the second night, it nearly brought me to tears. The refrain continued to ring in my head in the weeks that followed: “Love is all we have left / The only thing that can be kept.”
I decided shortly after that show that I would get the tattoo of the gray brain cancer ribbon on my arm, as I’d been planning to do for awhile, but that it would also bear these words from the refrain.
At the very least, it’s a simple love letter to my husband. Brain cancer has cost us to lose a lot of everything — freedom, joy, adventure. Dare I say, as Bono so aptly reminds us throughout the concert, we have also lost a bit of our innocence. But the one thing we still have — the only thing anyone ever has in life that they can keep forever — is love. Love is the only thing that we give each other in this life that we can take to the grave and that others can keep when we ourselves are gone. I still have the love of my grandma Herrmann in my heart as well as the love of my first husband, Mike. If there is life beyond death (of which I’m highly doubtful), love is the one thing that transcends the barrier between corporeal and spiritual. Love is the point of our existence. That is what I hang onto.
The secondary purpose of this tattoo is a bit more selfish. I put it on the inside of my arm so that I could always see it when I am bike riding — the way arms are positioned when gripping the handlebars of a road bike will cause my tattoo to be displayed prominently. I can look down at it for inspiration when I want to give up. I can easily turn it around to view it when I’m not biking and I want to give up on anything. I put it there to remind me, always, that I should never take a moment or a person for granted. Somewhere along the way, despite having learned from the death of my first husband, I forgot this. I let myself believe that I was owed a happy ending. I forgot that life does not work this way. Whatever the future holds, I need to look at this reminder to take everything in perspective. Happiness and joy are fleeting and I must remember, always, to appreciate each second of those moments. Now, because of this tattoo, I will never forget again.
ETA: Video of “Love is All We Have Left”