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Negative Freedom

The Man Who Can't Be Moved
The Script

Going back to the corner where I first saw you
Gonna camp in my sleeping bag I'm not gonna move
Got some words on cardboard, got your picture in my hand
Saying, "If you see this girl can you tell her where I am?"

Some try to hand me money, they don't understand
I'm not broke I'm just a broken hearted man
I know it makes no sense but what else can I do
How can I move on when I'm still in love with you

'Cause if one day you wake up and find that you're missing me
And your heart starts to wonder where on this earth I could be
Thinking maybe you'll come back here to the place that we'd meet
And you'll see me waiting for you on our corner of the street
So I'm not moving, I'm not moving

Policeman says, "Son you can't stay here"
I said, "There's someone I'm waiting for if it's a day, a month, a year"
Gotta stand my ground even if it rains or snows
If she changes her mind this is the first place she will go

'Cause If one day you wake up and find that you're missing me
And your heart starts to wonder where on this earth I could be
Thinking maybe you'll come back here to the place that we'd meet
And you'll see me waiting for you on our corner of the street
So I'm not moving, I'm not moving,
I'm not moving, I'm not moving

People talk about the guy that's waiting on a girl
There are no holes in his shoes but a big hole in his world

Maybe I'll get famous as the man who can't be moved
Maybe you won't mean to but you'll see me on the news
And you'll come running to the corner
'Cause you'll know it's just for you
I'm the man who can't be moved


There are just adventitious or accidental events which, no matter how much one prays to all the gods that they happen again, will never come your way once more. For that is the essence of fortuitous events: they are, but they did not need to be; they happened, but there was no strict necessity for it to be so rather than otherwise. And because everything is random and flux, one is hard pressed to hope for things to repeat themselves (contra Nietzsche).

Although the word fortuitous stems from the other, let's say hopeful word "fortune," you would have to admit that such a thing is only a name we give to what in reality is still without a reason or cause. And one can suspect that fortune is attributed to the grand plans of either gods or the cosmos because we feel we do not deserve either good or bad fortune. It is rather easy to praise or blame anything, anyone other than ourselves: it consoles us that there is something wiser and greater than us, and even if we do not as yet see the whole and how things will "work out," we always believe that "everything is for the best" and there will always be a "sufficient reason" why things happen and not otherwise. That, rather conveniently, even if these reasons will, according to the great Leibniz, forever remain unknown to us, a being does know--what we call God, who is himself the sufficient and final reason.

But everything crumbles because we are obviously not God. This optimistic belief, while rational and hopeful--perhaps the highest hope we have--will never console us in our gardens of Gethsemane. We live our lives groping in the dark, blindly bumping into each other, unknowingly falling into this trap or whatnot, thinking we have found what we were looking for, but making one mistake after another. Thankfully, we do not know that mistakes are mistakes until we commit them or until they unfold themselves to be so. Imagine if we all knew beforehand all the mistakes we will commit! If we cannot be mistaken, then we lose our freedom, which we esteem and take to be what separates us absolutely from the animal and the god. You can tell your life's story based not on your achievements but on your mistakes. A resume of one's mistakes will be more substantial and telling, and far more interesting, than a resume of your achievements. This is so not only because "we learn from our mistakes" but because mistakes lead us to other choices and paths, "correct" ones finally, which in principle, would be the landmarks of our lives. In a certain sense, our best decisions can only be mistakes that have not revealed themselves to be so. Lives are forged not by the patrician hands of Fate but by our own cruel, dumb hands.

It so happens, however, that some mistakes that we recognize to be so later on, are not mistakes that we chose or made by our own doing. Since it is now possible to think that these "unfortuitous" events cannot be attributed or assigned to the decisions of fate and the gods--welcome to (post-)modernity--we have to imagine that things both happen because they happen without a why, and that it is solely up to us how we react or make do with these absurd, because with neither logic nor plan, events. When we do this and not that, and such a decision turns out to be a mistake, we can easily point to and blame ourselves: I chose this, I was free, I did this to myself. This is clear albeit a punishing thought we have difficulty all our lives in accepting. However, there may be mistakes that we do not do to ourselves, that we did not chose to happen, that we did not actively decide on because we did not in the first place employ our freedom. For freedom must be employed to be freedom; and this is a choice, our first freedom is the freedom to be free.

To go back to what was said above, there are things that happen without reason, accidents that require no explanation, events that pass us by; and there are decisions we make, things we enact on, choices we pursue. Now, what interests me here are those instances when we do not enact on accidental events or when we do not notice them much more do not see them. To wit, there are instances when things happen yet we do not make things happen. But can this inability to see or "do something" about an event, this disuse of freedom if one may call it, what may here be called "negative freedom," can this non-decision also be a mistake--something that can affect us greatly, even hurt us, or, shall we say it, change our lives? Doubtless, yes. We call these "missed opportunities," and their effects on us, I apologize for the word, "opportunity costs." Sometimes these unrealized opportunities turn out to be the  greatest mistakes that may haunt us for our whole lives that no amount of rationalization or optimism can exorcise. And without really, factually diminishing or taking away anything from us, the things that just pass us by may "cost" us the most. So, as always, let us take a look at  how such a loss is possible.


It is a familiar scene that has been played at least once in our heads if not in our lives, often delicately told with both longing and, more often, regret.

It could happen in a coffee shop, inside the bus, along the corridors of busy office buildings or in the crowded hallways of a big school, at the public park, the airport, in a foreign land you doubt you shall ever see again. The place matters not as much as the moment: You were minding your own tepid, uneventful life when from out of nowhere a strange angel passes you by. But unlike annunciations or without sending grand invitations, this angel is quiet. 

She is also minding her own "business" on the way to whatever blessed place she is going. Obviously, just like you in peopled places filled with embodied but faceless beings that bump into each other, she is unaware of herself, of her appearance and the way she looks and acts. There is always something majestic in how people proceed with their own daily preoccupations, errands, work, and lives in general. You do not see forced smiles on their faces or that pretentious air of self-importance. They, just like you, fumble with their keys or drop their loose change, erase old messages on their phones while waiting for their food or ride to arrive. They, too, blankly stare at open windows or move their lips as they remind themselves of all the things they have to accomplish that day but will probably fail to finish by night. 

This welcome stranger carries a whole world within herself, her own resume of accomplishments and tragic failures, her own ark of beloved people and favorite things, her own cross and own passion, her own hopes and aspirations. It is an enchanting and strange land! full of beautiful and promising possibilities. Like an empty heart before a clear night sky, you chance upon and witness a star (a planet? a universe?) suddenly blink, however faintly, revealing for a moment its shine and splendor. From among countless celestial beings in the universe this one star implausibly seizes your gaze and your gaze alone from among the equally countless hearts wishing upon the heavens that night. You know you are caught and that there is now only little that you can do. Hers was a world you have never entered because your horizons have never met--until now.

A writer can go on and on describing such a situation but this is sufficient for us. What happens next is the crucial step which decides everything. One can phrase it simply in a question for the awed man to answer: Either I approach her and breach my anonymity, or I stay in my place for one reason or another. There are only two absolute choices and one must choose.

Why I approach her can easily be explained by one reason, and that is because I do want to enter her world and in-troduce myself, and see her from up close. From that place, I would be able to judge if I like what I see, hear and if I feel the same way as I did when I gazed at her from a distance. What happens after (rejection, nothing, friendship or any other relationship) is solely possible because of the lover's advance. Now when things do not work out or when reality opposes with finality what you had in mind, we easily and too conveniently tell ourselves that "at least I tried" or at best I won't have to wonder "what might have been." While these are plausible and perhaps true, these are rationalizations, consolations and pats on our own backs because you still did not "get the girl." But the point, to be sure, was to move and advance to the chance but now possible beloved. And that should be enough.

Now it happens however that the sudden admirer (ad+miratio, before a miracle or a wonder) may incredibly hold his ground, stay in his place and not take the initiative and risk the advance. "Incredibly": because there seems to be no logical reason for such a withdrawal when you in one terrible instant or impossible moment  seem to have found a possible love. Naturally, it happens that we may fail to take the approach because of many, again rational, reasons: I may be shy or frightful by temperament, for example, not a risk taker or perhaps a nervous man, inexperienced in these matters, and so on. But these reasons all boil down to perhaps one more basic reason: knowing him or her seems to be not that important or consequential for me to leave and take the risk. But what risk could there ever be when I have "nothing to lose" and possibly "everything to gain"?

I apologize for I can come up with only one reason and that is inertia. It takes force to move something at rest, a substantial amount to boot, and here it means that there was not enough amount of force to totally move the hesitant admirer and so no reason to risk anything. Again, to dismiss it quickly, this laziness may only be a rationalization, or an ugly explanation: that I was "just not that into you," that "I really didn't like it anyway," or "the grapes are sour anyway"; behind these there is perhaps a simpler reason because nearer to the truth--attraction's insufficiency. Like a weak magnet, the object of my admiration did not capture my gaze fully for me to take flight and risk the lover's advance.

However, is this all? Can the failure of a possible love's advance be attributed solely to an insufficiency or a  weakness on her part? Am I not at all, at most responsible for my inertia, or at least indecision? There must be something more, something coming from my part, perhaps another reason other than fear or at bottom indifference.

. . .



  1. Anonymous4/26/2012

    Hi! I got to this old entry because I like the song a lot and saw the title in one of your links. When I read the reflection that followed, though, another song came to mind: "Marry Me" by Train. Marry me, if I ever get the nerve to say hello in this cafe. :)

  2. Hello, my friend.

    I've heard of that song already. Isn't it quite sad?--as sad as hellos which were never said, loves that did not even begin.

    I never did finish this piece. But what I had in mind was sometimes we do not intrude the life of another that person we already love from a distance because, like works of art which are already beautiful and complete in themselves, doing so can only lead to tarnishing them or even destroying them. Some, those who are too beautiful, just don't deserve us.

    Hope to hear of you again, kindred soul.


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