05/23/2012 01:20 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2012

Reflections on Tragedy, Mourning and The Rising

Written by Gina Conti

I've become a product of the classes I've taken over the past year at Madison. I guess that's the point of a good education; it really is an out-of-the-classroom thing. A year ago today, I probably wouldn't have foreseen my class schedule as one that included Positive Psychology and Mediation, Philosophy, International Relations, Black Music, and especially Springsteen's America. In my defense, I didn't even know classes like that were offered. No wonder so many people guessed I was undecided after I rattled off my schedule, but these were the foundations of a truly important liberal arts education.

On the last day of my Black Music lecture, my professor stood at the front of the hall in the Humanities Building. He expressed his sincerity in his hope that we had not only learned about the role music played in overcoming oppression, but also the importance of solidarity and faith in one another that it takes to be "good people." I feel like I'm getting the most out of my tuition dollars when I'm not only given the opportunity to pursue academics, but also enrich my character. It's been the common theme in almost every one of those classes that seem to have nothing to do with one another.

Where does Springsteen's America fall in this? What did a chronological assessment of Bruce Springsteen's albums have to do with making me a "good person?" I found the answer in The Rising. It's the understanding, solidarity and empathy that music can provide following tragedy.

This Christmas, my Uncle Bob, the one I wrote about in my first post, suddenly lost his 19-year-old son to a brain aneurism -- no warning, no sense. He gave the eulogy at the funeral and just before he stepped down, ended it with the lyrics to "Born to Run." Bobby had been a big fan of Springsteen too.

I always knew this class would help me understand my family's love of Springsteen, but The Rising helped me understand this moment: the explanation of why my uncle would have used a song that played in some of his happiest moments as the marker of such a tragic event. The Rising is a celebration of life in "Mary's Place" and the firsthand account of the despair that comes with losing someone in "You're Missing." It is the honest evaluation of destruction in "The Rising" and the faith in resolution in "Waitin' On A Sunny Day." It's a compilation of the most confusing paradoxes life throws at us, but it's clear in its message that we can survive it if we are willing to. In the wake of a disaster like 9/11, Springsteen not only described the unexpected suddenness of the loss of those who died and mourned their passing, but also celebrated the lives they lived and the joy they brought to others.

Shit happens. Really tragic, nasty, unforgivable shit. But it's when we can mourn and laugh together and gain a glimpse into each other's suffering and successes that we can come together and do more than survive. It's those experiences of solidarity that help us overcome our barriers and feel a more intense happiness in good times. Those are the ones that make us good people.

Gina Conti, who recently completed her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, grew up outside Chicago. She describes herself as "a realistic optimist who enjoys having an older brother and trying to figure out what her major should be."