The Writers' Circle: Just one thing about something


By Hank Slikker

PREVIEW Columnist

In my counseling session last week, my coach assigned me to write one thing for homework. I asked, “Which is what?”

She said, “Just write one thing about something.”

“Like what?”

“You know, whatever’s on your mind.”

“Well, there’s a lot in there; what do you want to hear?”

“Just one thing that’s in there, that’s all.”

It didn’t take long before my mind took me to “City Slickers,” a movie about a man (says Wikipedia), Mitch Robbins, looking to avert a mid-life crisis by taking part in a cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado.

On the drive, the trail boss, Curly Washburn, encourages Mitch to find the one thing in his life that is most important to him, that will solve all his problems. In the scene, Curly holds up his index finger and tells Mitch, “You know what the secret to life is? One thing. Just one thing. Once you figure it out, you stick to that … Everything else don’t mean ...” (Wikipedia).

Funny that meaning in life should come down to one thing and that you must look for it, too.

If I was a dictionary, how would I define Curly’s “one thing”?

Probably I would use a synonym like purpose. As in sports, the one thing is to outscore your opponent. Or in business, for example, the one thing is to make sure you bring in more money than what you have to spend to run it.

For us, what’s great about one thing is that it is elastic enough to define a great variety of pieces of our lives. We use it to give instruction, as in, “One thing you must do if you want to sleep at night is don’t eat before bed”; or, “One thing you must not do if you don’t want to embarrass yourself is to wear clean underwear.”

I’m sure you, too, can think of many one things out there related to your life. As in, “One thing that ticks me off …”; or, “One thing my high school didn’t give me”; or, “One thing seems clear to me. …”; or, “One thing that’s missing …”; or, “One thing is never to give advice. …”; or, “For mailmen, one thing that’s worse than dogs …”; or, “One thing for sure is we’ll never eat there again …”

You know what I mean? Just fill in the blank.

Personally, though, I believe Curly’s one thing has nothing to do with the small stuff. I believe he wanted Mitch to know that a cattle drive can’t help him find what he’s looking for -— that it’s an inner thing. We’ll also never know what Curly’s one thing was, since his heart gave out before the cattle drive got to Colorado.

Intrigued at Curly’s outlook on what’s important in life, I looked in the basement library of Western Civ for one things by famous people. I found two that I like.

The Son of God once told a virtuous rich guy who wanted to know how he could get eternal life. Jesus told him he needed to get rid of his coin collection. “One thing you still lack: sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven.” — Luke 18:22 (NASB).

I also found a similar one thing from St. Paul. Wanting to guarantee his resurrection from the dead, he told his friends, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” -— Philippians 3:13 (NASB). (Many cognitive therapy counselors might disagree with forgetting the past, however.)

I’m sure many other one things exist in the Western Civ library from some really famous people, too. But I chose the two above because they address an important one thing for me, which is the future.

In my early teens, I spent a lot of time looking for parties. The present seemed very much more exciting than the future. But one day that all changed when I ran into a one thing spoken by a very wise man. It goes something like this: “It is better to go to a funeral than to a party, because that’s where you’re going to wind up. And the wise take it to heart” (my paraphrase).