Leave It Where You Found It

“In racing…your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle.”[1] 

         That is how Denny, the race car driver, explained the race in the splendid novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain. In other words, keep your eyes focused on the road ahead. If you look at the wall, you will hit the wall.

Let It Go

The introspective impulse of our age insists that we focus on the wall. It tells us to walk backward, always focused on the past. Appreciating the past is healthy; fixating on it can be deadly.  

         It really all comes down to a question: How important is your future?

         All the time and energy spent excavating the past, reacting to others, or getting angry represent an enormous waste. Could that drive could be better utilized in moving us forward in our own life’s purpose?

         Kimi Gray was a lifelong tenant of Washington, DC’s public housing. But she had an idea; what if tenants managed, even owned, their units? Could they begin to build equity? Would that translate into greater care for the property?

         As a lifelong Democrat, she pitched the idea to everyone she knew in her camp. When her passion failed to ignite anyone there, she dared to reach out to “the enemy.”

         President Reagan’s HUD Secretary, Jack Kemp, listened. After they talked, he introduced her to his boss. To make a long story short, Reagan signed a bill allowing tenant ownership of public housing. He then handed Kimi the keys to her own public housing unit. Her resident management corporation would administer the transfer of units to residents.

         A few days after that ceremony, I spent an afternoon with her. After talking of many things, I asked Kimi how she had been able to navigate all the personalities and polarities of “Washington” and do it so successfully for so long.

         Her voice, spoken from the language of her street, carried wisdom for everyone: “I always leave shit where I find it.”

         “What do you mean?”

         “Some folks gotta analyze it, play with it, or throw it on others. Not me; I see it, I keep walking. Leave it where you found it.”

         So simple, so intelligent. Keep walking. Leave it where you found it.

         Later, she told me about her encounter with a famous Washington power broker soon after the White House ceremony. After deriding the whole idea of resident empowerment, he said, “Kimi, don’t you know the Republicans are using you?”

         She replied, “But, I got the keys!” Her answer perfectly modeled her motto.

Ignore the Wall

We don’t have to engage, explain, or react to everything. We have no obligation to make sure everyone is happy. Our economy invests great energy and dollars to pushing people to do something. And, when we are continuously prodded by anger, outrage, bargains, and other provocations we tend to become reactive. We wait to be told when, where, how, and why to click, buy, be afraid, exhibit outrage, etc.

         But, to do that keeps your eye on the wall, not the track. We don’t have to live like that. Your life does not belong to marketers, politicians, news media, or any other power center. You can ignore the wall and keep your eyes on the prize.

         Just walk away. Leave it where you found it.


[1] Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain (New York: HarperCollins, 2008)

8 thoughts on “Leave It Where You Found It”

  1. Glen Roachelle

    Oh Ed, this is just excellent! If any reader reacts to your one monosylibic expletive, they are looking at the wall, and missing the point. That one little 4-letter word is what makes so many people spend their lives spinning out on the track, season after season.

    I just love Kimi Gray and the legacy she surely must have created there in the DC inner city. Roberta remembers meeting her at an Anschutz inner-city leaders awards banquet in the 1980s.

    Keeping our eyes on the road that leads to the promise of the prize is what it’s all about. You wrote that we don’t have to react to everything. So very true! To paraphrase one thing that Jesus once said: “My enemy comes to me, but he finds no part in me.” That is to say, when distracting influences hit us, they must not find anything still alive in us that would want to rise to the bait.

    The reactionary knee-jerk tendencies need to all die in us so we can keep our focus and priorities clear.

    Thank you so much for this!

  2. Oh, Glen, what a great line and perspective: “When distracting influences hit us, they must not find anything still alive in us that would want to rise to the bait.” Wow.

  3. My Driver’s Ed. teacher used to say, “You steer where you aim.” That has stuck with me, and I tell people you don’t stay out of the ditch by watching the ditch. The old saying, “What we fear, we create,” is only partially true. It’s more accurate to say, “What we focus on, we create.” Focus on what we fear, and we create it. Focus on that which defeats what we fear, and we defeat what we fear, and we defeat our fear itself. Simple, but not easy.

    1. Thanks, Mike. I really do love what your Driver’s Ed teacher told his students. Wonderfully succinct. And your last two lines could form the basis for a book. Or a documentary. Or sermon. Or, life!

  4. Chris Hoffman

    Quite a message here Ed you are sharing. I like your picture pertaining to the focus of our vision.

  5. Wow. Ed. Brad and i quit watching tv news about 2 years ago because I would rise to the bait and get myself in a twitter. Now I realize I was playing with the sh.. it’s better to leave it lying there.

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