Forty years ago, I left a good teaching job in Ohio and moved back to Alabama. I thought I’d get some writing done there, but wound up driving trucks and buses until I latched on to some part-time teaching, and then a semester-long writer’s residency at a college a long drive away.
I lived in the men’s dorm and finished the first draft of a novel there, but my happiness about that didn’t last long. I wasn’t happy much about anything in those days.
Sometimes I’d go home to Birmingham on the weekends. When driving back to the college, I’d turn on the radio and hear Steve Winwood’s song “While You See a Chance.” There were nine words in his lyrics that aroused hope in me.
While you see a chance, take it, find romance …
The words that followed didn’t make much sense to me. But those nine did, and they lifted my spirits so high that I’d turn the radio up all the way, roll down the window, and watch the red and yellow leaves of the oaks and poplars dance in the wind.
Even when I left my car in the city and rode my motorcycle, which had no radio, those words still echoed in my head, over and over, a mantra that could not be extinguished.
I was married at the time, and my wife and I had plenty of favorite love songs that we shared. But this was the one that spoke a secret language to my heart.
One night I met a young woman at a party. We locked eyes and walked slowly toward one another, hands extended and fingers spread. When we got close enough, we joined hands, and when we stepped away, our eyes still locked, we danced to another song, “Take On Me” by a-ha.
We took a break, and headed for the door. Her husband said, “Where do you two think you’re going?”
She said, “To the corner to buy a pack of cigarettes.”
“Oh no you’re not,” he said.
We never became lovers, but we were close until she died at the age of 26.
Ten years later, I met another woman, and commenced a romance that lasted, off and on, for nearly a decade. It tore our marriages apart, but it’s over now. She’s been married to someone else for even more than a decade.
Don’t tell me that these personal tragedies of mine aren’t worth talking about in light of the suffering caused by wars and natural disasters. I’ve been a witness to them, and I can tell you that love is the thing most hoped for even in the worst of them.
I’d alter and add a few words to Steve Winwood’s song, though.
While you see a chance, don’t take it. Unless you’re prepared to lose it.