musings, rants and reports from the field

From April 2013


I admit it. I snarl in my soul, though it may come to pass that I make the actual sound. Getting older permits the restraints to come off. I snarl, feeling the contortion in my face, when women (young ones in particular), from whom I irrationally but with utter certitude expect brilliance, settle for half-assing their way though a day or a project or a career.

In one of the most painful and astonishing years of my life, I’ve add two new entries to the logbook of wise stuff:

The “Keep the Donkey Out of the Ditch” Rule

When you develop and set in motion a vision for a project, insist always on the highest possible standards for problem solving. It is elemental to The Work. A big vision will snarl at dithering solutions on the path to full expression.

The “Wrinkles Rule” Rule

I’m mightily relieved there are places in the world where advancing age still accrues social benefit. Traditional (though eroding) Kenyan reverence for the wisdom of elders informs me that I’ve been no slouch learning the ropes of humanitarian work. In fact, at 61, I’m damn sure of the exceptional quality of my wisdom. Asante to Kenyans for enabling this insight! That said, I also endorse firmly sidelining an elder who’s a perennial grouch, autocrat, cleptocrat or self-absorbed pain the ass – in order to reinforce and preserve the best of this tradition.

Working in Africa, where the sublime and the wretched jostle side by side on bad roads, and spending my days with people whose practicality and humor I adore, always leaves me saturated with wonder and bewilderment. Though my soul finds grace in its spiritual home, my mind roils at lives and environments so vastly degraded and restrained. I see the women struggle to find any potential in their lives. The woman in us who knows we can do anything is powerful beyond imagining. We are learning together how to become her.

Back in the land of lux resources, I cannot grasp why a chance to grow, a compelling or even quotidian problem to puzzle through, seems not to hold allure, especially for the young. A worthy life faces up to and tackles the challenges inherent in being and awake and sentient. The splendid interaction, the task completed with verve and grace, the failure that recalibrates our horizon, become the newest stories you will laugh or cry over with the family you are constantly creating.

My intuition: there’s just too much distracting, disabling noise jamming up the works.

An essential step in putting a fine frisson into life: Turn Off Your TV. Recycle the damn thing. You will go through withdrawal, but it passes and then you’ll start reading books again and writing letters on real paper and having clear, extended trains of thought and resuming the hobby that made you joyful until you put the stuff in a box in a closet where it silently upbraids you whenever you open the door.

Free of this major and debilitating toxic agent, you get to practice every day the behavior that makes, at the very least, for a more civil world (when do we resume greeting people passing us on the street?) or, at best, transforms the tenor of the day and refashions the future for folks who may be tuned in. It can be that big. Baby steps – the daily practice –get you there.

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