I think, above all else, people crave permanency on some level with their relationships. We expect a best friend to always be there, never plan for a life without the people who raised us, and dream of a perfect significant other to wake up next to every morning until the end of time. People expect permanency on some level from everyone we share our souls with, that is, of course, unless you feel like a Substitute Person.
The title comes from the 2005 film “Elizabethtown” where a bubbly flight attendant by the name of Claire tells suicidal passenger Drew of his special talent by the name of substitution. The thing about Claire is that she meets people in passing, the people who are on their way to one point or another and will never meet again, and claims to enjoy it. Impossible to remember, hard to forget.
Although Claire eventually finds her happy ending in a love story that closes the film with the implied promises of permanency, the underlying idea is to avoid being an option to people, to force yourself into becoming a priority in the lives of the relationships you value. Though feeling like a priority to others is something many of us rarely experience and, in all reality, who hasn’t felt like a substitute person?
Being young is often more difficult than we are equipped to deal with. People are at pivotal moments in their lives and could change their mind at any moment once they find their purpose, while that is a luxury and a freedom, it is also extremely damaging to those around us. I think of all the friends who graduate and move away to new lives, too busy or distant to stay in touch. Or those in pursuit of an undying wanderlust who pack their lives into a suitcase and become members of the great unknown rather than settling into the motions of everyday life. The friends who have found new friends, the breakups that stung, and the countless roommates, classmates, neighbors, and high school buddies who we never spoke to again have all made someone to feel like a substitution at one point or another.
It’s not fun to feel like a substitution and no matter how many “goodbyes” we have in a lifetime, they never get any easier. But I find a sort of beauty in being the gatekeeper to whatever it is people are seeking in their next adventure while I’m stuck in a sea of questions as I sort out my own life. People move on and move out, sometimes that hurts and sometimes, they can find exactly what they need to become who it is they were shaped to be and there is a real beauty in witnessing someone find their place in the world, even if it is from a distance.I don’t know what I want yet out of life, but I have found a true appreciation for connecting to the lives of others, if even for a passing moment. The human connection is not lost but an inspiring journey to the search for permanency, a spirit of adventure lives inside every one of us, and sometimes, it’s the places we’ve been and the people we’ve met who give us exactly what we need to carry out that calling. So here’s to the substitute people: those who seem to only have brief though meaningful relationships. Those who pour themselves out to others and stand back to watch them soar off into their new lives, those who perhaps crave some kind of permanency of their own. Keep pouring, keep giving, keep pursuing humanity in its most raw form. There is nothing more beautiful than loving others while finding your own purpose, your own permanence.