Writing Wednesday 020: “That was the time he stopped believing ______.”
Today’s exercise from 642 Things to Write About by the San Fransisco Writers Grotto is very interesting and direct. My instructions are: “Begin with the following sentence: ‘That was the time he stopped believing ______.’” I like this and will aim to give my best to this challenge.
That was the time he stopped believing. He no longer believed in himself. He no longer believed in love, god, his abilities or his destiny. Maybe this was it. Maybe he should give up and give in. These thoughts weren’t his usual internal dialogue, but times were different — times were intense. Everything was happening at once, everything he didn’t want. Everything he feared. How can this happen to me? He pondered. Usually, things went his way — actually, they always did. Failure wasn’t a common occurrence — it was alien and foreign.
Unfamiliar with what he was faced with, and unable to comprehend his own role in the problems — the impasse of one’s first failures. Before the benefits of failure have become known. Before the life lessons are discernible. The first times are painful.
“It can’t be my fault…” we say.
“It’s just a run of bad luck…” we hope.
He definitely hoped so. And maybe it was, but he wasn’t able to see past the pain. He couldn’t see his own signature on the bad luck deposit slips he’d been filling his luck account with. When the windfall came it had been compounding for some time now. And the abundance of bad luck left him financially, spiritually, and emotionally bankrupt.
Believing there was a way out of the despair hadn’t crossed his mind. Nor had the fact that it was his hands that shaped the clay he was now left with. His thoughts and actions had led him here — but he couldn’t admit that to himself or anyone. Yet.
Sitting in the typical slumped body language of the dejected he was in a peak state of misery and self-loathing. The curb was hard and hurt him as he sit on it. His head was low and in his hands. The thoughts kept repeating and replaying, over and over. His life’s highlight reel was overshadowed by the recent lowlights that brought him to his curbside seats at the game of existence. This must be rock bottom, he thought to himself. This must be as bad as it can get.
As soon as he had assumed he was at his worst point something changed. Something shifted. He felt it slightly stir. An ever so modest change in his thoughts and feelings. If this was really the worst thing he could experience, if this was really rock bottom, he couldn’t go any lower. But, then again there were probably others in even worse situations. That made him feel the slightest bit better. That helped.
As this shift occurred something else happened. The empty street in which he sat in his puddle of shame and defeat, was not longer empty. An old man was approaching on the opposite side of the street. He wore a grey overcoat and shiny, embossed brown wing-tip shoes protruded from the bottom. His gait was confident and he had a definite swagger about him.
Seeing this man approach gave mixed emotions. Feeling glad to see another human, combined with the shame of an apparently successful man seeing his life crashing into the rocks. Kinship, and indignity. Not sure whether to say hello or hang his head further in disgrace, he sat motionless and halfway hoped that the man would walk by without noticing him.
As he grew closer, the man looked across the street and made eye contact. His eyes were warm and friendly, but concurrently piercing and intense. Their eyes remained locked for what seemed like an extended duration. He felt the old man had just sized him up, and understood him without words. Eyes piercing the soul. He couldn’t explain why, but felt that this strange old man cared about him. This stranger grew closer and crossed the street making it clear that he was intent on an interaction.
“Hello.” The old man said in a strong and deep voice. “What brought you here?”
After clearing his throat, and somewhat straightening up his posture he mustered the courage to say “Bad Luck.”
A telling smile spread across the old man's face. “Oh really? What brought on the bad luck?”
Astonished at the almost mocking tone he interpreted, the response came blurting out “I don’t know, just life! Everything’s against me right now. What do you care anyways!? Who are you??”
The old man didn’t react to anything, he seemed to absorb this negative outburst and remain unfazed. Calmly he said “No force is against you, other than those you bring to you. You are the reason for any bad luck you may be experiencing. I care because I’ve been where you are, and I’m just an old man who’s learned a thing or two about luck.”
Unable to believe that an old man had just blamed him for the problems that delivered him into his current slump he sat silent and began to brood once more on his recent downfall. Surely he couldn’t be right, surely the fall from grace had been fated.
“I didn’t do anything wrong! I’m the victim!” He thought silently.
The old man looked at him and shook his head like he could hear his internal dialogue.
“Thinking like that won’t help. If you want to step up you’ll need to accept that you had a hand in this, and you now possess everything you need to make the changes that will help you. You are disempowered, but the power is yours to claim. Right now it’s not about what you’ve done to land here — it’s about how you’re going to step up and climb back to the top. Do you want to change your luck? Be thankful. Grateful that as low as you’ve just fallen you didn’t die, and as bad as you’ve felt you could have felt worse. You’re young and still have time to recover and rise out of the darkness.”
These words penetrated right into his heart and he felt new emotions growing. Less fear, more courage. Less doubt, more certainty. And, less cowardice, more confidence. The old man is right, he thought — I’m still alive and things could actually be worse. He sat up and inhaled deeply. A smile began to take the place of his scowl.
The old man extended his hand down, “Step up, you’ve still got a life to live, and a story to write. The hero always hits bottom before he makes the biggest difference.”
He grabbed the hand and the strength astounded him as he was helped back onto his feet. “Thank you, I needed that.” He smiled at the old man.
“We needed that.” The old man looked on with a twinkle in his eye and continued walking.