Ch 18: An Inciting Incident

“…the second you stand up and point toward a horizon, you realize how much there is to lose. It’s always been this way…

…the great stories go to those who don’t give in to fear.

The most often repeated commandment in the Bible is ‘Do not fear.’ It’s in there over two hundred times. That means a couple of things, if you think about it. It means we are going to be afraid, and it means we shouldn’t let fear boss us around. Before I realized we were supposed to fight fear, I thought of fear as a subtle suggestion in our subconscious designed to keep us safe, or more important, keep us from getting humiliated. And I guess it serves that purpose. But fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.

Shortly after… I noticed a girl who’d been hanging out in our group of friends. She was a friend of a friend, really, and had been showing up at the Lucky Lab on Wednesday nights where some of us were in the habit of getting together. She was cute and laughed a lot and wasn’t frilly. I’d noticed her and talked to her a few times, but I was a bit afraid. She wasn’t giving me any signals, you know.

So about this time a friend from Alabama e-mailed to say he was flying to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. He asked if I wanted to come and invited me to invite any of my friends too. I didn’t research the hike or anything, and I was certainly in no shape to climb mountains, and… if I was going to get into shape, I was going to do it through cycling. But the next week at the Lucky Lab I wanted to sound impressive, so I said I was thinking of going to Peru to hike the Inca Trail and wondered if anybody else wanted to come. This girl, the one who hadn’t given me any signals, said she’d always wanted to do that hike, and a friend of hers said the same thing. And right then and there they said they wanted to come. ‘It’s a date,’ I said, and got an odd look from across the table.

By the time I got home from the Lab, the girl had e-mailed confirming she was serious. So I e-mailed my friend in Alabama and said there would be three of us from Portland joining him and his friends in Peru. I think I was so excited about the girl that I forgot that I was in no shape to climb mountains. And the next day I looked up the Inca Trail on the Internet. The first article I found said the hike was extremely difficult, and a person should be in good physical shape before arriving in Peru. I read a description of the hike, and it turns out the Inca Trail climbs to 14,000 feet, then back down, then back up to 12,000 feet, then all the way back down to the Sacred Valley above which Machu Picchu sits in the clouds. I thought perhaps the warnings about physical fitness were exaggerated, so I googled ‘Inca Trail’ and ‘excrutiating’ and read about fifty personal accounts of self-inflected Peruvian torture. I actually read warnings from people saying stay away, that even if you are a runner, the trail is extremely difficult. What in the world have I gotten myself into? I wondered. But it was too late. Without knowing it, I’d created an inciting incident. I’d told my friend I’d go, and I’d invited a girl I wanted to date. I was in a story.

James Scott Bell says an inciting incident is a doorway through which the protagonist cannot return. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, but I had certainly walked through a doorway. I was an overweight, out-of-shape guy who wanted to get into shape and date a specific girl. I’d walked through a doorway that would force me both to get into shape and to interact with her. I suppose I didn’t have to get into shape, but if I didn’t, the story would be a tragedy. And nobody wants to live a tragedy. I’d found my motivation. I joined a gym the next day.” – Don Miller, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, p 107-110

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