– This is the literal translation of “mo sheasamh ort lá no choise tinne,” the Irish phrase for trust, as noted by Pádraig Ó Tuama.
The concept of duration has been following me around all week – from investment discussions at work to a conversation at the gym to a glorious gathering this weekend with dear friends.
I’m not sure about the yield curve or ultramarathons, but I do know that friendships that go the distance are truly precious. To witness someone’s life unfold, to see how it cris-crosses with your own, to know a person – and to be known – across time and space and circumstance… what a terrific gift.
Some friends are steady like mountains, quiet presences that endure. Some are like rocks thrown in a pond, splashy at times, yet with ripples that extend ever outward. Some are the very ground beneath us, the places we stand on the days when our feet are sore.
Dear ones, wherever we find ourselves today, let’s take a moment to appreciate the people in our lives with staying power – rare, and vital, and essential. True gold.
– Brownie Girl Scout song, taught to me by my mom. Best sung in a round, by a chorus of very cute kids wearing beanies.
This weekend I heard a lovely metaphor, an image from economist David Colander that was conveyed by Brian Arthur, pioneer in complexity economics and longtime faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute. Colander compares the development of economics to the climbing of a mountain:
With two mountains enshrouded in clouds, the econo-group chooses to climb mountain number one, the mountain of order. It’s a handy choice, since the terrain is well-suited to the tools at hand, and the group makes steady progress. By the time they reach the top, we have some beautiful models that help to explain part of the world in an elegant and organized way.
However, from this first peak, above the clouds, lo and behold a second mountain looms beyond, far larger than the first. This is the mountain of organism, not order, where the routes to the summit are unproven and the tools for the climb have not yet been gathered. It would be an arduous and uncharted climb, but from this summit we might see an infinitely more complete view.
We all have situations where we’ve climbed mountain number one, only to find that there’s a bigger landscape out there than expected. It would be easy to categorize that first climb as a waste of time, to feel that we took the wrong job, committed to the wrong person, bought the wrong house, made the wrong investment. It would be easy to turn away from the other mountains and refuse to consider them at all. It would be easy to claim that those higher peaks didn’t look all that great anyway, that ours was the best in every possible regard.
Dear friends, our options are not limited to despair over an incomplete journey, or bitterness over roads untaken. From the tops of our little peaks, we could pack up and head to the other mountains despite all of the challenges, true explorers. We could help to create new equipment that would help others to explore different terrain. We could tell the stories of what we can see from our peak – and what we can’t – so that the beginnings of new maps can be sketched.
We can build the capacity for exploration, regardless of the journeys we choose to take ourselves. We can rejoice in what we’ve learned on our climbs, and be grateful that they have revealed mountains beyond mountains. We can enjoy the view, knowing that it has helped us prepare for adventures yet to come.
It’s a funny paradox that working on long-term thinking can be a frenzied, over-scheduled thing. Racing from a plane to rental car to highway in California recently, I was determined to get to Muir Woods before they closed.
That is an obviously ridiculous concept, that the woods have a closing time. I’m also sad to report that you now need a reservation to visit this place, and that the lack of cell service there seemed to render us all helpless infants.
Happily, the woods themselves couldn’t care less that the parking rules have changed. One step onto the path and I felt a great release. Ten more steps and I felt a prickle of tears in my eyes, to be amongst beings that had seen so much. And when I found myself alone in the redwood cathedrals, woah. These trees have stood through wartime and peacetime, through storms and sunshine, through human folly and human wisdom.
There is nothing I could ever bring to them that is greater than something they have already survived. The same is true for mountains, for rivers, for plains, for marshes… even for some buildings, and some people.
Hand on a tree, my fury over powerpoint fonts drained away. Feet on the earth, my worry over lost basis points disappeared. Air in my lungs, my deeper questions about purpose and meaning floated free.
All of our work, all of our lives, are ephemeral in the grand scheme of things – and yet if we are alert, and a little bit lucky, some of our endeavor might help those who come after, whether they be humans or foxes or maples.
The parking rules at Muir Woods might be needed at the moment, and I’m glad for the folks who worked on them. But oh! Dear friends! Let’s not confuse the apps with the trees.
When I arrived home, this amazing book had been sent to me by a dear friend. Coincidence? I think not!
Fo a few years now, thanks to the wisdom of Pilar Gerasimo, I’ve been trying to follow a more seasonal model of work: using the winter for deep foundation-building projects, spring for sprouting up new ideas, summer for stretching out and expanding. Fall has been full-on harvest mode, gathering up all that has been tended, sharing it with others, pushing to get a lot done before the quieter winter stretch is upon us.
Yet autumn is a time of planting, too. It’s not for tender seeds that will burst into action, but rather for bigger, more durable elements – the sapling that needs to settle its roots before the ground freezes, the bulbs that need the dark and the cold to properly develop.
This past week, amidst a scurry of fall harvest activity – meetings and powerpoints and spreadsheets, a bushel full of productivity – I was brought up short by a friend asking a simple, sincere, Why? It sent me straight to the grounding of my own life, and helped me to see that even in the midst of this autumn busy-ness, there are roots to be established for the coming years.
Dear friends, there are 66 days until the new decade – 2020, a time for clarity if there ever was one!
What big, durable roots do we want to set in the ground?
Let’s be planting, even as we harvest.
Let’s dig in today.
Dear ones, we can live lives immersed in the world, with hearts carefully shielded – active and unattached. Or we can live whole-hearted lives within smaller circles – loving but limited.
But if we can we live both open-hearted and fully present in the world, woah.
We might get muddy, and our hearts might break. But a muddy, heart broken-open life is likely to be a worthy life.
Let’s get in the room.
Let’s make our engagement prayer.