This song has a redemptive message for me. It speaks to my tendency to be a workaholic, to the drive that doesn’t know when to stop and the obligation I feel to “be there” for everyone at all times.
But even more specifically, it proclaimed a specific rebuttal to a message that was spoken to me almost a decade ago.
I have never worked myself as hard as I did when I was in college. I regularly worked graveyard shifts at a residence hall desk during which time I completed my homework, and then when I got off, sometimes I would go running or to class. At one point I was taking both sleeping pills and caffeine pills to survive. And then I was starting to prepare for graduate school auditions. So I would lock myself away for hours and get lost in my repertoire.
On one of those days, a friend called and asked me to leave the practice room to go hang out with friends that evening. That was a lot to ask, but after a bit of persuasion I agreed, “just for an hour.” I started to get stressed out when an hour turned into two, and then three. Finally I insisted on resuming my practice. As we walked back to campus together, he asked me how I am able to keep going at the pace that I do. I was annoyed by the challenge, and tried to explain that I was just doing what I needed to do. Maybe he was annoyed with me as well, or just wanted to make a point when he said,
“You’re more like a machine that keeps producing and producing and producing than you are a human being.”
No one wants to be called a machine, no matter how much they act like one.
Those words have echoed through my head ever since.
A few weeks after this scene, I was rushed to the emergency room in the middle of the night, and then transferred by ambulance to another hospital. The machine had reached its limit.
I’m only human, and I bleed when I fall down.
I’m only human, and I crash and I break down.
I’m not a machine, and in her single hit, Christina Perri voices both sides of this struggle that many of us face. For me, the imagery of a machine in the music video was especially powerful.
Of course, “only human” isn’t the complete picture. I believe that being human is also something to be celebrated. It’s amazing what humans can do. I added this song to my running playlist and when it started playing during an 18-mile marathon training run the other day, I realized what a bad idea that was. I started seeing images of myself tripping over a pebble and crashing to the ground, knees scraped and bleeding. That’s not the way to get through a difficult workout. In some moments, we do well to celebrate the extraordinary capabilities of humanity.
But as humans, we also have limitations, and as someone who constantly struggles to respect my own limits, this is something I need to hear from time to time. Although I hate falling down, I’m thankful for the reminder that I am not a machine.