Sunday Best – July 7, 2019

On fireworks and fireflies.

When I finally moved into the city, the main criteria for choosing my apartment was that it had to have a view of the 4th of July fireworks. For many years, that show has been my main summer ritual. I’ve refused wonderful invitations and rearranged all sorts of other plans to be sure I was there for the fireworks. I even delayed my departure to walk the Camino de Santiago so that I could see this spectacle as my own personal send-off before the journey.

This year found me in the country instead of the city for the 4th – a happy development, but for the missing fireworks. To my delight, as the sun settled beyond the horizon, I heard the familiar thwunk, whoosh, pop! and ran outside – but surrounded by hills, I couldn’t see a single spark.

As I turned to go inside, from one of the tree clumps that was blocking my view, I spied a flash. A quiet one, no sound at all. Then another. And another. I was surrounded by fireflies, who have no sense of FOMO at all.

Did you know that fireflies are also among the most efficient light-producers in the world? The chemical reaction in a firefly has a near-100% energy conversion ratio, compared with just 10% for an old school incandescent bulb. And researchers are copying the reflective structures on the firefly to improve effectiveness of LED bulb designs. Celebration, science, poetry, nature, magic – they are all pretty close cousins sometimes.

Dear ones, as we search for the rare and showy fireworks high up in the sky, let’s be sure not to curse the things that are in our way. They might contain an even more amazing show.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Best – June 30, 2019

We have a new Poet Laureate! Joy Harjo, member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, is the first Native American to hold this post. I have just begun to read her work, and in the first interview I saw, she noted, “Everything is a living being. Even time, even words.” So now I am working my way through the living beings of her words, meeting her poems. Today I woke at dawn to the crow calling outside my window, stumbled downstairs, and in a curious non-coincidence this is the poem that was waiting for me.

Ah, ah.

 

Ah, ah cries the crow arching toward the heavy sky over the marina.

Lands on the crown of the palm tree.

Ah, ah slaps the urgent cove of ocean swimming through the slips.

We carry canoes to the edge of the salt.

Ah, ah groans the crew with the weight, the winds cutting skin.

We claim our seats. Pelicans perch in the draft for fish.

Ah, ah beats our lungs and we are racing into the waves.

Though there are worlds below us and above us, we are straight ahead.

Ah, ah tattoos the engines of your plane against the sky—away from these waters.

Each paddle stroke follows the curve from reach to loss.

Ah, ah calls the sun from a fishing boat with a pale, yellow sail. We fly by

on our return, over the net of eternity thrown out for stars.

Ah, ah scrapes the hull of my soul. Ah, ah.

– Joy Harjo, from How We Became Human

Sunday Best – June 23, 2019

On plants and perseverance.

 

Twenty years ago, I found my own little patch of ground to care for, the one that had been in my dreams all along. That first spring, I sent away for dozens of apple trees and peony plants, eager to be rooted.

Imagine my dismay when my glorious orchard arrived in a little shoe box! The trees were not yet trees at all, but little pencils of tree-lings. The peonies were not giant shrubs covered in puffballs, but a bowlful of tiny new potatoes.

The early years were not much better. The deer ate the pencil-trees to the nub every time a leaf appeared, the peonies sent up sad single stalks without blooms, and I did my best to weed and chase the critters away, though often unsuccessfully and sometimes with a dash of resentment.

Now, all of a sudden, or so it seems, the apple trees are spreading unruly branches over my head and there are so many peonies it looks like a small child’s drawing of a garden, with great blobs of color all over the place.

Dear ones, we need to keep going.

 

 

 

Sunday Best – June 16, 2019

 

On Honor and Love.

Thanks to the wonderful, people-centric team of Cue Ball Capital, this week I heard Khalida Brohi speak about her new memoir, I Should Have Honor.

Khalida’s story is terrific, with important links to gender equity, cultural identity, and personal development. But, like all good stories, at the heart of it is love. Khalida’s life was changed because her father defined honor differently than some others – as getting good grades and earning a great education.

This thought has stuck with me all week, and hopefully it will stick for much longer. What am I honoring with my actions, with my words, with my life?

There is a lot of ugliness that is wrapped up in a false cloak of honor these days, so we need to be careful. Whether patriotism or prayer or parenting, when the word “honor” is invoked, beware. Sometimes it is a shiny wrapper, meant to distract us from an essence of fear or control or meanness. The easiest test of truth is to ask, Where is the beloved that links to this honor?

If we can see the love, the honor rings true.

Indeed, it may be the work of our time to reunite honor and love.

Dear friends, instead of starting with, What do you honor?

Let’s start with, What do you love?

And then let’s honor that – steady and deep and true.

 

 

Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers and father-figures out there. This week’s edition is in tribute to my own dad, who has demonstrated this link between honor and love more vividly than anyone I know.

 

Sunday Best – June 9, 2019

On placebos and care.

 

I attended a wonderfully creative gathering of scientists thanks to the Santa Fe Institute recently, where we briefly discussed the placebo effect. The shorthand definition for placebo is that it’s a substance that has no therapeutic effect, but really it is a substance that is not designed to have a therapeutic effect.

The effects, in fact, are undeniably real.

Placebos don’t directly create physical changes, but they do lessen pain. They do focus attention and intention. They do become part of a ritual of care.

This dynamic is true in other settings, too. Recently I was restless in my apartment, convinced I had to move. But once I had nourishing food in the refrigerator and the laundry was put away, my home was suddenly more homelike. Similarly, I spend a lot of time thinking about the structural flaws of our current form of capitalism, but some of these flaws are not structural at all – they are a simple lack of care.

Sometimes what needs to be changed is a cholesterol level or a leaky roof or a voting rights structure. And sometimes – always – what is also needed is care. Care is not free; it takes time and attention and sometimes it hurts. But all the clever invention in the world cannot replace it.

Dear friends, as we work to transform treatments and structures and systems,

let’s also take care.

 

 

* You can learn more about the Santa Fe Institute and the amazing Interplanetary Festival here.  And this week’s photo is from the beautiful Garrison Institute, with thanks to dear friends at New Summit Investments.

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