Don’t quit

Florida, 10 November 1992

After a long walk along A-1-A to admire the houses with their exotic gardens of palms and trees with twisted roots around trunks, I returned to my motel and stood on the balcony to admire the view. I thought about going out for the evening…about being with someone who could treat me like a lady, since it is the title of the book I am writing.

A man walked by and, on his return a moment later, stopped to chat. He said he was going to do some washing. Did I have any to do? I could put it in with his, he offered. My amusement over this novel approach to introduce himself quickly changed to intrigue when he began telling me stories about his life.

He introduced himself as Clark, and recounted a recent experience of pushing himself so hard when things were difficult at work, that he wanted to quit…and quit on life. He went to fish from a jetty to contemplate suicide. A man appeared wearing studded belts around his neck and wrists, and a letter opener on a piece of leather around his neck. Clark thought he was a mugger and feared he would beat him to death.

He watched him throw in a pole and begin to fish, but he looked distracted. Clark’s fear mounted, but he calmed himself and said “hello” when he caught his eye. The man asked if he was having any luck and Clark answered that he really wasn’t interested in fishing. The stranger said that he wasn’t either…that he was a member of a rock band that had been on the road for so long they all suffered from burn-out. One member had committed suicide, the other had quit, and now he was thinking about taking his own life.

Totally surprised by this turn of events, Clark admitted that he was also thinking about taking his life. The man stared at him for a few moments and then said, “I figure God only gives everyone a few chances…to somehow learn how to live our lives, I mean. If we quit now, we’ll be blowing one of our chances…and may never get another. They stood staring at each other, the words seemingly hanging in the space between them as a gift they could reach for if they could muster the courage to face their fears and go on. With the power of those words between them, the men made a promise to each other not to quit; then walked off down the jetty together with renewed determination to continue their life’s journey.

Clark had more stories to tell and he invited me to dinner. Hesitantly, I accepted. But I needn’t have worried. My wish to be treated like a lady came true, for he opened doors and treated me like a lady all evening while we exchanged stories that reminded me of the real things that are important in life.

Perhaps the most interesting story was about the man who was Johnny Cash’s chauffeur. He owned a huge lake front property where he had a modest house. The lake was always at his front door, extending its dimensions and gracing this simple man’s life with its presence. Johnny Cash wanted to buy his property and when the old man sought Clark’s advice, he said to ask himself whether he wanted to be rich enough to buy whatever he wanted, or keep his house and land.

The old man replied after some thought, “Well…as I see it, I’m already richer than you or Johnny Cash.”

Puzzled, Clark asked, “How do you mean?”

“Well…” the old man said thoughtfully, “Johnny Cash wants my land, so he ain’t got everything he wants. You be always buyin’ this and that, an’ never seem content with what you’ve got. Me…I’m happy with what I’ve got. There’s nothin’ I’m a’hankering after. I don’t want no more than what I’ve got. I guess that makes me richer than both you and Mr. Cash.”

Clark had to admit that he was right. He told me how he used to take the old man for rides in his boat, saying, “You’ve been driving others all week, now it’s my turn to drive you.” And the old man would sit in the bow of the boat just as proud as can be, enjoying the ride. I got the impression that he was very rich indeed, for he understood what true wealth is.

Before I went to sleep that night I reflected on the wealth contained in stories, and the gift of an evening of being treated like a lady. I thought about the times I almost gave up on writing my book, but something always kept me going – like the story Clark told me about not quitting.

Now, almost twenty years later, I am still writing that book. All the rewrites finally revealed the secrets hidden in my past so that I could heal my life and write the ‘real’ story that played hide and seek with me for so long. You just never know when a story can save a life…or a dream. I hope it inspires you to never once think about quitting your goal or dream or mission in life.

Footnote August 12, 2010:

Today while trying to find something in my 1990 diary, I came across a poem about not quitting I had copied from a poster on the refrigerator of a family I was staying with in Paris. It inspired me to keep on going with my writing then as I hope it will inspire you now…

Don’t Quit

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re treading seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must – but don’t you quit!

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won if he’d stuck it out;
Don’t give up – though the pace seems slow –
You might succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor’s cup
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out –
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt –
And you can never tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit!

Author Unknown

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