“Keep on moving, don’t stop like the hands of time.
The time will come, come one day.
Why do people choose to live their lives this way?”
- Soul II Soul, Keep On Movin’
Last October, I quit my job. I’d spent 12 years slogging it out in the corporate circus. I had become a woman who cared about stock tickers and derivatives, just so I could hold intelligible conversations in the elevator. I feigned a love of real estate so that I could hold court while half drunk in the middle of a group of dismissive businessmen. I cared about VBA so that I could build tools for the “organization” to peruse and throw away so that more tools could be built. I was good at these things. Good at the hamster wheel. Pretty good at the politics. Disasterous at reconciling my dreams with my reality.
But I was lucky. I knew exactly what I wanted to do instead: write full time. I just didn’t know if I had the guts to do it. So I leapt , staving off the dizziness by refusing to look down, knowing that if I hadn’t moved when I did, I might never have moved. And even if I fall, I’ll still be moving in some direction.
But what about the flip side? Soul II Soul’s 1990 song, Keep On Movin’ posited the question, “Why do people choose to live this way?” What about the people who’ve quit, embracing the broken and static and muddy, wallowing in unhappiness, lamenting fate. They’re single, they’re coupled, they’re childless, they’re overrun with children, they’ve got too much money, they don’t have any money. Their dreams are broken and untenable because the world — parents, children, spouses, lovers, colleagues, passersby — got in their way.
I was thirteen when the song came out and hardly informed of how choice factored into a life lived fully, but I could already see the choices being made around me. I’ve debated the role of choice in the equation with friends who propose that maybe all we can expect of each other is our individual best and that some people are just can’t be expected to try. But I’m haunted by the question why some choose to stay still. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to get out of the puddle? Don’t we owe it to those who never get to go all the way?
“I hide myself from no one, I know the time will surely come when
You’ll be in my life, my life always, yellow is the colour of sunrays.”
In the summer of ’99, my car broke down in a dingy sheep town off I-90 tucked beneath the Beartooth Mountains. I had just graduated from college, simultaneously lost and full of purpose. I alit inside the dim local bar with my paper and a cup of coffee while I waited for a tow truck. A few ancient men in ball caps harrumphed to another while a fuzzy-haired, craggy-faced waitress fussed over them with a pot of coffee fused to her right hand.
My old friend Maria’s picture was on page six of the Gazette. She looked just like she did in our group photo from prom — a perfect beaming smile and a generous frame of dark curls. Maria was the kind of girl who buzzed with electricity, her thin wrists punctuating a running, guileless commentary. I wondered who she had become in the last few years. I knew she had just gotten married. And then I looked at the header on the page and the dates under her name.
That harpy of a waitress booted me from the saloon for making the old men uncomfortable. I tried to compose myself, sniveling and stabbing my coffee cup at Maria’s picture. “Friend. Dead. We’re only 21.” She shooed me to the curb, coffee pot still in hand. Stumbling into the bright day, the sun felt malicious and unfair.
“I know the time, time today, walking alone in my own way.
Extremely cold and rainy day, friends and I have fun along the way.”
Eight years later, we moved to Seattle. While job searching, my afternoon routine included reading at a rundown Starbucks near our house. Americano in hand, I tripped out into the drizzle to read my latest find, a book about small town Haines, Alaska.
The book, a wonderful read by an admirable NPR reporter, told the story of the author’s next door neighbors whose house was now empty. They’d picked to pick up some newlywed friends on their flight from Haines to Juneau, when the plane crashed in inclement weather. The newlyweds were Maria and her husband. And there she was, dead all over again, at the Starbucks on 103rd and Aurora. I choked on the coffee and hucked the book into the grill of a parked taxicab.
I still have that book, now rain spotted and dirty. I should probably finish it, but I don’t want to. There should be some universe where Maria gets to live.
“Click clock, find your own way to stay.
The time will come one day.”
I hadn’t been close to Maria in several years and so I can’t lay claim to the grief that her family and close friends felt at her death. But I can share the shock and the anger at the waste of her boundless energy. And when the second of the five girls in our prom portrait died two years later, I didn’t understand how it could possibly be. We were so young. We were supposed to have time. We were supposed to have a margin for error.
So instead of being understanding, I get angry when people tell me that they won’t change their lives for the better. When they tell me that they want someone else’s life. When they tell me their friends aren’t good enough. When they decide their cat is more important than their significant other. When the significant other allows it to happen. When they tell me they can’t get out of bed in the morning.
Because they can. They can get up every day until they can’t. Maria can’t. So many in our lives can’t anymore. See, there is no margin for error. I’m not the only one who’s lost a friend in her prime. I can’t expect people to grab life by the horns because people in my life died too young. But I can join the chorus to try to prevent a life un-lived — either accidentally or on purpose.
The choice is ours — despite mind numbing grief, impossible obstacles, and shattering set backs. Maybe we need friends. Maybe we need therapy. Maybe we need drugs. Maybe all we need is to take it piece by tiny piece. To wake up. To open our eyes. To roll over. To put our feet on the floor. To stand up.