I met one of my closest friends today and I love him dearly and we are good friends to one another in the way men rarely are. He is, I think, my best friend. And he will be leaving shortly. He is a young man with a new baby considering what to do with his life. He wants to move to a different part of the country with his new child and wife. He is very much a writer, but has always been too shy to show his work or publish it. He told me he needs health care first, and then a pension plan and other benefits.
We talked, as the sun set on this suddenly wintry week, and then we talked about books we had been reading, as we often do, and I saw something in his eyes that was familiar to me. And I said, “you have a book in you, don’t you?” And he turned crimson red, and then looked away, and then, near tears, he turned back to me and said yes, he did have a book, and he wanted to write it more than anything on the earth, but he had a new baby, and had responsibilities and so he had to go find a job with benefits, it was what his family had told him. I asked him what the book was and he told me, in powerful and beautiful detail. He said his wish to do it was “fierce.” Then he asked me what I thought he should do.
I don’t offer advice about things like that, but if I’m asked I tell the truth, which some people don’t really like. Still, I do it, especially to friends.
Friend, I said, your responsibility to your child is to be happy and fulfilled, and not hide behind a baby to live someone else’s version of your life. Our society teaches us that we must have health care and retirement funds and own houses and cars, and we must live for that, but I said that was not my feeling. I told him that living your life on that basis was the first death for a creative person, the death of the soul, and the rest was just filling out the paperwork and waiting for the body to catch up.
Yes, we need to care for our families and meet our responsibilities, but we did not exist to be slaves, in this culture or any other and we had a right to live our lives and tell our stories. No one ought frighten us into living a life we don’t want. He could make it work, I said. I told him I could not count the times I have walked the plank, blinked in terror at the fragility of my life, the lack of money, the failures and disappointments, the losses and small tragedies, the doubts and fears. There are worse things in life than not living the life they have proscribed for us. That is a life lived in fear and countless people in the world have given their lives not to live that way. Honor them, I said. Write your book. Find a way. Jump. Never give up on the notion that you can create the thing that sets your heart on fire. I will never give up on that, I said, not if my farm crumbles around me, my bank account finally drains for good, and my body gives out.
We both ended up crying. We are having dinner again in a few days. I can’t wait. I will pray that he does his book.