Sunday Best – March 17, 2019

It’s a curious time of year in New England, yo-yo-ing from bleak to hopeful, and lately the news seems to be following suit, with horror and mourning snuggled right up next to courage and celebration.

A good companion for this time has been the poetry of WS Merwin, who passed away on March 15, the Ides of March. Much of Merwin’s early and mid-life writing conveys the same sense of bewilderment and even despair that comes with reading our recent news, a “how did I get here?” sort of anguish, a seeking that is beyond urgent.

This backdrop is one reason I love the poem “In the Time of the Blossoms” so much. Here we find, in the midst of that disconnected searching, a moment of reconnection:

Ash tree

sacred to her who sails in

from the one sea

all over you leaf skeletons

fine as sparrow bones

stream out motionless 

on white heaven

staves of one

unbreathed music

Sing to me

 

That last line, “Sing to me,” just lifts up into the air, and I’m intrigued that it can be read either as a statement or a plea.

In the tumult of this week, I found myself coming upon some early blossoms and buds, at long last, and sensed what Merwin does here, a simultaneous grounding and lifting. Air and earth. Life and death. Motion and stillness.

Dear friends, if we find ourselves unmoored this week, let’s find a patch of tree or leaf or blossom or bud. Let’s whisper, whether in observation or supplication,

“Sing to me.”

 

* More of Merwin’s poetry can be found in his many publications, or  at Poetry Foundation, a group that makes endless poetic resources freely accessible, for which they deserve our gratitude and support.

Sunday Best – March 10, 2019

Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.

     – Victor Hugo

 

This week I attended a terrific business conference in Florida, where a cool sun was shining. Of course in the last hour I realized all my time had all been spent in conference rooms, so I went for a quick jog before heading to the airport.

I was stopped in my tracks by the beautiful sound of birdsong, and very close by! Sure enough, right at eye level, she was singing away and completely undisturbed by my presence. After a moment of taking it in, I even took a little video, so that I could carry this moment of spring back to the north with me.

There I was, communing with nature, sun on my face, feeling all blissed-out, when suddenly the bird coughed up a big orange berry, and spat it right at my face. At first I felt a tiny twinge of “Hey, birdie, you’re wrecking my bliss. Plus, that’s gross.” And then I could not stop laughing. Within 30 seconds I’d gone from mildly content to thoroughly delighted.

This kind of thing happens all the time – the beautiful outfit that’s splashed by a slush-puddle, the terrific picnic beset by a sudden thunderstorm, the innocuous question that elicits a zany reply, the adorable kid who has drawn a masterpiece on the wall…. surprises of all sorts carry the potential for irritation, and for laughter.

Dear friends, if our perfect picture has a ragged edge today, let’s take the opportunity to celebrate its surprising imperfection. Let’s opt for joy.

http://youtu.be/8C6QgIN0M2Q

 

 

 

Sunday Best – March 3, 2019

This past week I had the honor of visiting with the amazing team of Last Mile Health in Liberia, whose mission is to save lives in the world’s most remote communities. LMH’s vision is a health worker for everyone, everywhere, every day. In Liberia this work supports the government’s national health plan, which includes building access in places where the nearest care would otherwise be many hours or even days away.

I could write forever about the lessons I’ve learned from working with this organization, where the mission is rooted in justice and love, in quality and proximity. This week, three elements were especially vivid.

  • The power of perseverance. When you’re on a long journey in Liberia and you ask how long it will be, the answer inevitably is, “not so far”. That might mean minutes or hours or days, but it is always true. If you keep going, it’s not so far.
  • The power of compounding. If you are working towards something grand like systems change or equity or justice, progress day to day can seem miniscule. But conversation builds to relationship. Experience builds to expertise. Activity builds to trust. Small builds to big.
  • The power of experience. For many of us, there are parts of our work that can seem abstract, charting progress on a spreadsheet or mapping a philosophical theory of change. These are important tools, but only if they reflect the wisdom of collective lived experience. If you’ve seen polio or measles or typhoid firsthand, you will line up for hours to vaccinate your child. If you’ve seen a baby thrive in a place where that used to be rare, you will do a little dance for prenatal vitamins, trained traditional midwives, and professional birth assistants.

Dear friends, when we catch ourselves tiring of the long journey, or feeling the small will never be the big, or thinking we understand something we’ve never actually seen or done…

Let’s keep going. Let’s keep the faith. Let’s keep learning.

Together, we might get somewhere great.

Sunday Best – February 24, 2019

The line on the map is not to be found at the edge of the sea.

      – Dana Meadows

 

I’m off to distant shores today, which has me thinking of all the reasons we travel. We travel to see new things, to meet new people, to have new experiences, sure.

We also travel to rediscover what we already know – perspectives on our own home lands, on our own families, on our own lives.

And then, a little deeper still, we travel to re-member what we know on a more essential level. That a parent caring for a child looks the same all the world over. That the joy of an unexpected flower or fruit or creature can be found in any landscape. That a nourishing meal or a kind word have the same soothing impact regardless of ingredients or language.

That the edges and lines of our maps don’t exist.

Dear friends, wherever you find yourselves today, take a little trip. We don’t have to fly away to travel.

 

* This lovely quote is from the writings of Dana Meadows, sent to me by a dear friend this week (thank you Jay!). I refer to Dana’s scholarly work, like Leverage Points in a System, all the time at work – how great to be reminded that her more poetic writing is just as powerful. See? No edges, no lines.  

Sunday Best – February 17, 2019

Purl two?

Many of you have likely seen Purl, the new short film by Pixar about a ball of yarn who is the lone “other” working at BRO Capital. The story follows Purl as she adapts to fit in with her colleagues, doing everything she can to be less Purl and more Bro.

Then one day another ball of yarn arrives, and with this arrival comes a moment of reckoning. Will Purl help the new ball of yarn, risking all she’s gained, and reminding herself of all she’s lost?

The story has a happy ending, and not just for the balls of yarn, but for everyone. Other folks who are neither Bros nor Yarns arrive. The Bros are happier, the team is thriving, and surely their investors are benefiting too.

But I have a little secret. At the moment of decision, when the elevator doors were about to close, my first thought was, oh no, Purl’s going to leave that new ball of yarn. And my second thought was, well, that newbie needs to toughen up.

Things run deep.

Long after we think we’ve adjusted – and hopefully improved – there’s a root still underground, just waiting to sprout. As Faulkner said, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Dear friends, if an unwelcome root starts sprouting for us this week, before we cut it back, I hope we take the time to examine it, to see where it came from, to see if it might be dug out a little more completely.

And to all of my colleagues who have been Purls to me, both men and women, leaping off elevators at those crucial moments —

thank you.

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