What Saralee Said

What Saralee Said

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

What Saralee Said

No, really, just do it. You have some kind of weird reasons that are okay.

~Paul Thomas Anderson

There have been many Chicken Soup for the Soul stories through the years that have warmed my heart and renewed my spirit, but one story I think about nearly every day is Saralee Perel’s “Just Show Up,” featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive. Saralee’s suggestion, to “just show up,” instead of fretting over every little step that it might take to accomplish a certain task, has helped me change my tendency to become overwhelmed by my various responsibilities. With four children, a brand new grandson, chronic pain from a long-ago facial injury, and caring for my elderly mother, I’m often stretched pretty thin, but Saralee’s story inspired me the moment I read it. That Saralee lives with paralysis, yet touches her readers with such positivity, humor, and grace, is a testament to her courage and strength of character.

“Just Show Up” is an account of how Saralee met a man named Morris while walking in the woods near her Cape Cod home and of the three magical words Morris taught her. “Here’s how I understand it,” she later told her husband, Bob, when he asked what Morris meant. “When the thought enters my brain, ‘I should go exercise,’ I instantly start thinking about every single step it takes to get around to doing it. First I have to shower. Then I have to find something to wear. Then I have to find everything I need for safety. Then I have to — blah, blah, blah. I think what Morris meant was to scrap all of those thoughts. In other words, I should replace talking-myself-out-of-it thinking with the words: ‘Just show up.’ ”

Priceless, I decided. I could do that too.

In the beginning, it felt like a miracle cure. “Need to clean the house today?” I’d ask myself, and then, instead of talking my way out of the job by concentrating on all of those mind-boggling little steps (first I’d have to de-clutter, then I’d have to attack the dust-bunnies camped out on my kitchen floor, then I’d have to vacuum. . .), I’d think: “Remember what Saralee said: ‘Just show up.’ ” “Need to take Mom out for errands, respond to e-mails dating back to prehistoric times? No more step-by-stepping, girl! ‘Just show up!’ ” I applied the miracle cure to my writing too, particularly regarding first drafts, since staring at a blank screen can scare the creative flow right out of me. All those little craft details are what I freak over (narrative here, dialogue there, how to connect these two passages — yikes!), but by changing the way I viewed the process and “just showing up” at my computer, I could relax enough to write the draft on the first try.

My husband calls this “meets minimum” thinking, that for any given task, if you begin with the minimum amount of things you need to do to accomplish it, well, you’re halfway home. But I like Saralee’s motto better, because, to me, “meets minimum” implies that you’re making very little effort, when sometimes “just showing up” requires the greatest effort of all.

I discovered the importance of that whole effort thing this past summer, when one of my twin daughters, Holly, got married. Implementing Saralee’s approach was working well for me, but preparing for a wedding really put the theory to its test. There was so much to do that Holly and I scarcely knew where to start. We needed to figure out the dress, the venue, the centerpieces, the cake . . . and on and on. We found ourselves texting/calling/meeting multiple times a day.

“I had no idea there’d be so much,” I told Holly one evening as we gulped down dinner, a casserole I’d made that was her favorite. Neither of us even tasted the meal, however, wedged as it was between corsage crafting and vow drafting. “I don’t know how we’ll ever get it done.”

Holly looked as tired as I felt.

Where was Saralee’s advice now? It appeared to have lost its verve. And just when it seemed that I couldn’t possibly add one more thing to my already packed to-do list, another commitment arose.

It happened by way of a phone call, one from my older son, Dave. “Hey, Mom,” he said when I answered. “Can you babysit Sawyer two days a week? My work schedule has changed.”

“You mean just this week?” I asked.

“Um . . . no,” he hedged. “All summer.”

My brain went instantly into overdrive. I’d have to get up extra early. Then I’d have to check on Mom early too. Then I’d have the forty-minute drive in rush-hour traffic. What about my writing projects, not to mention the ongoing wedding plans? It wasn’t that I didn’t want to keep my precious little eight-month-old grandson, but how could I fit it all in?

Suddenly, amidst all this dithering, Saralee spoke right to me — and I bet you can guess what she said.

So I followed her advice yet again. I “just showed up.” And somehow, it all got done. My writing got submitted. My beautiful daughter got married. My mom’s chores got finished. My house got cleaned (more or less!). Not to say that it all went perfectly or easily. Of course, few things ever do.

But you know what? Those two days a week were what got me through last summer. I could relax on those days. I could breathe on those days. Sawyer was just learning to walk and would squeal with delight when we played “Where’s Nana?” and chased each other around the living room. One morning a hummingbird came to call at the feeder outside our open window. Its wings made tiny buzzing noises, which I mimicked, and Sawyer laughed. His big blue eyes locked with mine as I fed him his bottle, and when he fell asleep in my arms, I inhaled his sweet baby scent, feeling very close to heaven.

That was when it dawned on me. If I hadn’t “just shown up,” I would have missed those tranquil summer days. I would have missed my grandson’s gorgeous blue eyes and that pretty hummingbird outside. I finally, completely, saw the true meaning of what Saralee said — and I was grateful.

Which doesn’t mean my schedule’s not still sometimes mind-boggling. There are still dust-bunnies camped out on my kitchen floor and e-mails time-stamped “Jurassic Period.” But I’ve heard it said that worrying is simply lack of faith, and I’m attempting to live by that truth.

I’ve never met or even emailed Saralee, yet her words have changed my life. That is the power of connection, of story. Happy 20th Anniversary, Chicken Soup for the Soul. That is the power of you!

~Theresa Sanders

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