2014-10-16 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

Too much talk and not enough action

This summer I met a woman who talked endlessly about slippers.

“If I just had a pair,” she said, “my feet would be warmer.”

“They would,” I agreed.

“Can you imagine it?” she said. “Waking up every morning and putting your feet in a pair of cozy slippers?”

We were part of a group of writers and artists staying at a residency in the south of France in a village so small you couldn’t even buy a cup of coffee there. Once a week we left the mountain to spend an afternoon in the city. On the days leading up to our first trip down, the woman asked me, “Do you think I’ll be able to find slippers in town?”

“Of course,” I said. I gave her a list of shops where she should look.

On the day itself I had my own errands to run, but I left the woman standing in front of a large store similar to Target.

“This place will have them,” I assured her.

But when we met up an hour later, she hadn’t bought anything. Actually, she’d spent the entire time sitting at a cafe in the plaza enjoying a cup of coffee.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “The place where we’re going for groceries is one of those mega stores that sells everything, even socks and underwear. They’ll definitely have slippers.”

But when we met back at the car after the grocery run, the woman showed up sans slippers. She just gave a complacent shrug when I asked if she had looked for them. Back on the mountain later that night, I overhead her talking to another writer. “It’s chilly tonight,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a pair of slippers?”

I thought of that woman recently after having coffee with an old friend, a man who has been tired of his life as long as I’ve known him. He talks of change every time I see him, of making grand gestures, of trading in his current situation — his job, his city, his wife — and moving on to something new.

For a long time, I encouraged my friend. I helped him work out an action plan. I made suggestions for new careers, new places to live and, yes, even a new spouse. Yet he always threw up his hands helplessly in the face of all that concrete effort, as if changing his life were completely beyond his control.

I finally realized after our most recent visit that he’s just like the woman on the mountain: He’s never going to buy the damn slippers. He just likes talking about it.

In a lot of ways, in life and especially in love, I think we all do this. We claim we desire something, but we refuse to make it happen. We say we want a steady life, but we run away from it every chance we get. We say we want a good partner, but that’s never whom we choose. We say we want to be loved, and then we turn from those who love us most. Maybe what we need is less talking and more acting, on all fronts. ¦

— Artis Henderson is the author of “Unremarried Widow” published by Simon and Schuster.

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