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Russell Wangersky: Sage advice

“The loneliest people

in the whole wide world

Are the ones you’re never going to see again.”

— from “Harlem Roulette” by The Mountain Goats



Run while you still can.

Years ago, working the dreaded Christmas graveyard shift for CBC-TV News, I was sent out with a cameraman on Dec. 31 to do a streeter — asking average “people on the street” their opinions.

It’s the easiest kind of “news” — you hold a microphone, point a camera, ask a question, and impose on other people’s good nature to fill out time on your news broadcast. Reporters hate doing them. On air, you only see the responses from the people polite enough to answer. You don’t see the brush-offs, the angry dismissals, the people who ask, “Don’t you have anything better to do?” (The other thing you learn is that, often, people have little or no idea about the most basic of current news stories.)

My streeter question that day was a simple one: I was charged with asking people what their New Year’s resolution would be.

We set up near the doors of a grocery store — lots of people coming in and out, and no way for them to avoid us. I was doing my best to collect just enough comments to be done, when an old man, easily in his 70s, came slowly through the doors, grocery bags in both hands. He stared at us, the camera light bright in his eyes, and I threw out the question.

He didn’t say anything, just turned and moved away, his back to us. My cameraman, much more experienced that I was, kept the lens on him. When he was almost out of range, he turned. There was light snow blowing off the roof, dusting his hair and shoulders.

All he said was, “To live.” After that, without any further explanation, he turned and walked away. My cameraman turned towards me; we looked at each other. The old man moved off across the parking lot, slowly, snow filling in behind him.

I thought it was funny then, imagining him heading for the clubs, breaking a move, dancing the night away.

That was before — before older people I had worked with started to pass on. Before younger people I worked with lost parents and other members of their families.

Before occasional morning aches became a more regular thing. Before eight hours of uninterrupted sleep became not only unusual, but a surprise.

I know I’m not as old as the man who threw those two words at me in the grocery store parking lot. But sometimes, I imagine I can feel the weight of his groceries, the ache of his shoulders, the way the plastic of the bags can cut into the skin of your hands.

The days speed up, the weeks speed by. Another winter becomes as short as another month used to be.

And that’s why I say run.

Run, jump, travel, experience, do.

Find parts of the world that leave you gobsmacked. Don’t get tied to creature comforts too quickly. Learn and study and, well, move.

It always seems like there’s plenty of time. It’s also always easier not to take chances — but the safe road ends in the same place that more interesting routes do — and the interesting routes have better scenery.

I can imagine a younger me reading these words, and saying, “yes, but…”

No buts about it.

The days speed up, the weeks speed by. Another winter becomes as short as another month used to be.

Use your time. Use it well. Make it full.

Because it runs out more quickly than you realize.

Promising “to live” is a far better resolution while there’s still plenty of time to do it.


Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 35 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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