Why We Don’t Start

why we don't start

via Creative Commons

Have you ever felt fear cripple you — lock up your hands so that the only motion they can make is to ferret their way into pockets of any size? The knowledge of what you must do swills around in your gut, gradually seeping through your veins like a paralytic.

You can’t

do

anything.

You can’t send the email. Dial the phone. Say the first word of the conversation that needs to be had.

And maybe a day…week…few years later — you think back to that moment and wonder what might have been had you grown the requisite pair and taken the leap.

But that — it’s all regret. Useless. You sure as hell can’t do anything about that thing now. Or maybe you can.

On Saturday evening, I spent a night very much (and gratefully) alone, enveloped in a blanket with various dogs in various positions. I was doing what it is that I do when I need to unplug: watching movies that used to amuse me. The flavor of the evening was Purple Rain. And somewhere in the middle of the movie, a story started stirring around in my head. It was a good one, too. Or at least as good as a story that only lives in your head can be. I needed to write it down. Get it out of my head an onto the paper.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I started thinking about everything I’ve never started because I…didn’t (and with no good excuse, mind you).

Maybe you know what that feels like.

Maybe I’m just a bit morose with my 40th birthday looming next month.

Maybe it’s high fucking time I had this conversation with myself. Why do I, in the presence of everything I need, not start something?

The Truth

Because I’m like you. I’m sick of friends, self-help books, and every bloody expert and guru telling me what I need. Sometimes things just don’t get started and they sit there on the kitchen counter like a bunch of bananas you bought to eat at breakfast that end up looking like furry, brown phalluses not even fit for banana bread. I have everything I need to get some shit going, but all that shit winds up in the bin next to the was-bananas.

And it’s okay.

Sometimes what we need is pass opportunities over. Maybe we’re in the shit. Maybe the timing is crap. Maybe money’s tight. Maybe it’s just a long-ass conversation that makes you forget whatever it was that you wanted to talk about in the first place and you find yourself at home four hours later with the same question clanking around like a pinball in your soul.

And you find yourself doing something you never planned on doing instead. It sure as hell isn’t anything your friends or any book full of “advice” thought you should be doing.

But you end up doing it anyway…and it turns out to be fucking brilliant.

Like the Last $10 in Your Wallet

I walked into the grocery store on Sunday morning to buy toilet paper. That’s it. I had just over $10 with me and when it was all said and done, I had a single $10 bill in my wallet kept company by some loose change. I walked out the door to my car and there was a man standing outside. I see him there often — I know he’s homeless.

So I could have walked to my car, taken my toilet paper home, gotten on my bike as I had planned and continued my mission to burn off everything I’d consumed in the name of a dead turkey.

But I didn’t.

I asked him how he was and if there was anything he needed. It sounded something like this:

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I mean is there anything I can go inside and get for you,” I replied.

“No one ever asks me that,” he said.

“Well, I am. Is there anything inside that you need or want?” I asked.

“Really?” he asked quite skeptically.

“Really.” I said.

And so he told me. And so I told him that I’d be right back.

So I went inside and got him what he wanted. I bought a reusable bag so it would be easier for him to carry and more likely to make it wherever he was going than one of those atrocious plastic numbers. I brought it back outside and handed it to him.

“What’s that smell?” he asked.

“I got you some hot soup — it’s that big container on the top with the tape on it.” I said.

He just looked at me and after a minute he just said, “Lady, why you so nice to me?”

I just looked at him and said, “No reason, other than I wanted you to have a better day.”

“Thanks, lady…wow. Thanks. Dang. I mean, god bless you. God bless you lady, ” he sputtered out. And then I handed him the $10 out of my wallet and told him to have a good day.

I went back to my car, started the engine, threw the toilet paper and my wallet with a now empty billfold across into the passenger seat and backed out. I maneuvered my car around to the other side of the lot, over by the bank that wasn’t open, and parked.

And I cried. Cried, cried, and cried.

Not because I was sad. Because I started something and I finished it. And it was meant to be started and finished right there.

I drove the 1/4 mile home (hello, First World Problems), parked, and went inside to go about my day. I never went for the bike ride, but I’d gotten a workout all the same.

So The Next Time…

You beat yourself up about not starting something. About being afraid. About letting an opportunity pass you by…

…remember that maybe it’s supposed to pass by so you can make room in your heart for the shit that matters. Because it’s not an iPad Mini. Or a big screen TV. Or whatever the hell else you can score at whatever percent off if you shop on Thanksgiving or get up at o’dark-thirty to wait in line for a “deal.” It’s not the rush to get the 5 pounds off your ass that you put there willingly and enthusiastically. It’s not the car you get into so you can roll up the windows and park in a space in front of a deserted strip mall bank and cry.

It’s about doing all of the things that fall outside of the parameters of our best laid plans that we couldn’t have planned in a million years.

37 comments
Geoff Reiner
Geoff Reiner

I read a post from @craigmcbreen that mentioned you. Decided to check out your blog and I'm glad I did. I appreciate your style and your innate ability to pour your heart into your words. All too often we get caught up in the bs life throws as us. And at the end of the day, none of it really matters. We get all worked up and bent out of shape but why? Last week I saw a guy speak at a conference and he had no legs. He was born with legs but got them amputated when he was 5 - he had a rare problem with his spine. This speaker shared a story about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - walking on his hands. Reading and reflecting on your post, and thinking about how so many people can accomplish so much in life really, puts things in perspective. Thank you for that.

Tanya Storm
Tanya Storm

I think this is my favorite post I have read by you. Thanks for sharing that story with us. I feel like I have a giant pile of things I am supposed to start, and it all gets lost in piles of legos and tower-building, and repeated readings of "The Golden Egg Book" and solving huge toddler crises like "my hands are too short". This reminds me that even with all the work sitting around I am "not getting to" - I am getting to the most important things right now, every day.

Chris Montoya
Chris Montoya

The funny thing about serendipity is that life is waiting to hand you experiences to help you grow. Fortunately some of us listen to those experiences and understand the deeper meaning of personal evolution. What can you let go of now that doesn't fit so that something more important can come in later? Great article.

Tracey
Tracey

Thank you for this heartfelt post. I was "blubbering" reading your story and the stories posted by the readers here. It is always helpful to have a reminder to quit being so wrapped up in my own life and do what I am really meant to do; help others. Some days driving to work I see homeless people on the corner. I have been known to hand out a box of pizzelles or a sandwich to someone that could use it more that I could. (note to self - put boxes of protein bars in car). The time that really stuck with me was a couple of years ago at Christmas. Financially it had been a tough year and I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. Then I realized that the pity party had gone on long enough. I enlisted my then 12 year old daughter to help me gather items from the house that were gift worthy. We were surprised by how many new, unused gift items we had. We packed up a box of perfumes, jewelry, gadgets, and toys and brought it to the home of a coordinator for the town holiday gift drive. It was a day or two before Christmas and we learned that the items we brought would go directly to a single mother and her children. I will use your post as my reminder to once again get out of my own way and make a plan to help others. Thank you.

Lisa Weikel
Lisa Weikel

Erika, this is such a WONDERFUL story. Thank you so much for sharing it. Moments like the one you described are precious, and they do indeed bring all that truly matters in life into stark focus. I imagine that your kindness had a ripple effect that you will probably never see, but almost certainly will feel - time and time again - in ways you can't even predict. If nothing else, you've prompted all of your readers to maybe "see" a little differently, a little more compassionately, and perhaps react in a way they might never have considered otherwise.

Rob Bartlett
Rob Bartlett

Another great artcile, thank you, I know i need to start something again thanks for showing me the path

Jim Brochowski
Jim Brochowski

I work at the library and I see the homeless and those who work the system everyday so I admit I can be overly skeptical... but... I walk across the street everyday to the local hospital to get some coffee. It's good coffee, and a little bit of conversation with the shop owner... Anyway ... I'm walking back one day last week and standing at the corner I notice this old guy stepping off the curb and he totally falls down in a heap. He wasn't the cleanest looking old dude, but he was clearly in need. So, I drop my umbrella, (did I mention it was raining) and put down my coffee as I rush over to pick him up and get him out of the street... and it took awhile to get him out of the street. He was just standing there dumbfounded. Finally, I get out of him that he too wants to get across the street to the library and so when the crossing light changes we start heading over. Out of nowhere he is almost sprinting now, from not moving to sprinting - But - when we get to the steps he slows down again and getting him in the door it's clear that something is just amiss. He tells me he wants to sit down and so I'm trying to get him to find one of the pews, (yes, it's a pew) we have right by the front door. Finally he gathers himself and asks my name. He says: "I have Parkinson's and you have been a tremendous help. I'm waiting for my wife to get the car," and he sits down just like that and he's clearly grateful and clearly letting me know it's okay now for me to go back to work. I checked at the security desk and ask them to keep an eye until his wife came and got him and walked away thinking... but for appearances. I could have had some real regret there. Instead, I dropped the umbrella and put down the coffee and did the (right) thing I needed to do, and now I've found a place to share that. Thanks Erika

Christina Nelson
Christina Nelson

Awesome! I'll never forget the day I was with my teenage daughter (she's 25 now) and we had just left walmart with a car full of groceries. I had seen this young man and his dog the day before, further south, and it had been horrible weather that night. He sat with his backpack, his dog and a small paper bowl that he was letting the dog drink from. In a split second, with no extra thought, I went straight back into Walmart- picked up a few small packages of crackers, two subs, some natural fruit snacks, 6 pack of spring water, small bag of dog food and some dog treats- just enough to fit in one bag. My daughter kept asking me what I was doing, why was I bothering, did I know this man? I answered her by explaining I just had to because I did. We pulled out of the parking lot and I turned into the parking lot nearest to him. My daughter was kinda worried about my approaching him alone but we were right near a main highway with tons of cars. It wouldn't have mattered the time of day or area, I was doing this- I had no choice. I walked up to him and asked him how he was and if he minded me giving him some stuff. The look on his face as he pulled everything out was priceless- he kept thanking me and I told him no thanks was needed but he was very welcome. I saw him a few days later with a group of young men obviously traveling south before it got colder- he saw me too and waved with a big smile. To this day, my daughter remembers that. And the selfish teenager she had been up till that amazing day, changed almost overnight into the lovely, caring, compassionate woman I see today. It changed me too and I am forever grateful to that young man for helping me teach a wonderful lesson to my daughter and all who witnessed the event. I love coming here and reading- it's my therapy :-) ~C

Ajax Woolley
Ajax Woolley

Ohh! Thank you Erika. There's courage, skill, and love wrapped up in this. I don't have a comparable story to share the one you told resonates like a Gong. Way to throw down.

Jennifer S Roberts
Jennifer S Roberts

I think this sooo often "I have everything I need to get some shit going, but all that shit winds up in the bin next to the was-bananas." I am truly thankful that I have everything I need but it's also good to stop and see if someone else needs something (like you did).

Shalagh Hogan
Shalagh Hogan

At first, I'm ready to say it's all about giving yourself permission to not do. Then you turned an amazing left. To a place I have been to with a man named Boyd Gray in DuPont Circle in DC. And I went back to my hotel room, listened to Johnny Lang's Dying To Live, and cried and cried. That was some 15 years ago and yesterday I considered naming my belly baby after him. Good on you for your creation of that experience and for sharing it. There by the grace... go I.

Aaron McClaugherty
Aaron McClaugherty

I was @ a local HEB yep I'm in Tejas but from Colorado.Anyway I was walking around getting a few things @ the store when I noticed an older man, 80'sish looking kinda lost. I asked if I could help, he asked me where are the canned beans? I pointed him down the asile and started off on my merry way! Looking back I saw him pacing and still lost so I walked back over and realized he was almost blind...The long and the short is- I shopped with him that day and many more 'till he passed away. I relished his history and all the "RANCH" stories, I in fact needed him more than he needed me! I was happy I made the effort, followed through!

John Trader
John Trader

Thank you for helping me to beat myself up a little bit less about passed opportunities that may have been (in retrospect) golden eggs - but now seem like discarded candy wrappers in comparison to the things I really accomplished in their place. You are an inspiration Erika.

Steve Borek
Steve Borek

Delicious story. For the last 10 Thanksgiving's, I volunteer at the local soup kitchen here in Syracuse. I do whatever is required, mostly serving clients turkey dinner. Since I cook for myself every day, I always put a few take out dinners home with me. At the end of the day, I started driving home and decided to make a right instead of a left and venture into the city. I was looking for homeless to give away the dinners to. When I waved them over to my truck, to give them their meals, they thanked me. Though they were sort of surprised. Just like the man you helped. When you're feeling down, reach out and pick someone else up. It does wonders for everyone. Thanks for writing your story Erika.

Amelia
Amelia

As usual, you made me feel better. Thanks.

Laura Little
Laura Little

I really, really needed that. I"m glad you started (and finished) that one.

Erika Napoletano
Erika Napoletano

And I thank you coming my way and Craig for sharing me in your direction, Geoff.

Erika Napoletano
Erika Napoletano

Thank you, Chris -- it's all about making room for what matters. To me, at least :)

Erika Napoletano
Erika Napoletano

I do hope so, Lisa :) Thanks for sharing a moment of your day with me.

Erika Napoletano
Erika Napoletano

Thank you for this, Christina -- and I've been called by far worse things than therapy. It's life -- and we'll get through this thing together :)

Erika Napoletano
Erika Napoletano

Sometimes stopping -- it's the best thing we can do :) Thank you, Jennifer.

Erika Napoletano
Erika Napoletano

I don't know about being an inspiration...but I'm glad I inspired you, John :)

Erroin Martin
Erroin Martin

In all serious Erika, your story and the stories of those that have been commenting are inspiring. What I wonder is why this does not happen on a daily basis or why that temporary break through that allows you to get past your fear not occur more often? Please note that I am not in anyway shape or form belittling what you experienced. In fact I admire it and those that have been shared by your readers. The reality is that most people may take a one time chance to help someone out that they do not know, the key being one time. Most do not continuously push past their fear beyond that one time or few moments. If we did -- and I am including myself in this crowd as well -- we could help a lot of people constantly, evolve ourselves spiritually, and improve the life those within our influence. I don't know... just some ramblings from a tired mind. Now back to your regular non-nuanced programing. Again, thank you.