of the Week Selections, Fourth Quarter, 2001
those places where we're most alive, we are
questions, not answers. These questions change
as we age. One has to listen carefully, again
and again, to detect new questions, which
may announce themselves in a whisper. At any
age, the questions we're asking define our
growing edge. So long as we've got even a
single question, we're not dead. If all we
have are answers, we might as well be.
A Nobody Knows
said, I'm a Nobody from Nowhere who does nothing.
Up ahead the overcast had relaxed into broken
clouds, and the low sun was making sly remarks
from the southwest.
laughed mockingly and said, "That can't
be. It takes more than a nobody to pull a
solo job like this."
told her I hadn't planned the job. I asked,
How could I have? That made her think a minute.
I looked up, and she looked different, like
somebody who'd just read a letter.
told her I taught wood shop and sometimes
built furniture. All of a sudden it welled
up in me to tell her more, to share the joys
of working wood, to tell her how there's no
fresher smell on earth than a fresh milled
Doug fir two-by-four, and what a turn-on it
is to look at a stack of new-bought lumber
and see the table on it, or the bed or what-have-you,
that I'm about to make, or to strip the cloudy
varnish off an old piece that looks like junk
and bleach out the stains and patch the veneer
and sand it down and finish it til it looks
like new. It welled up in me to tell her I
had an instinct for the way things worked
ans sometimes could even see into the hearts
of things from their outsides, and how I loved
listening and talking to people, and how the
whole seeable and touchable world, the lakes,
plants, rocks, machines and people, made me
mad keen to know everything about it, and
how I would never, could never, forget a fact
I'd learned. I burned to tell her how strange
it was, wasn't it, that a guy with my looks
and arm-strength and know-how and pure amusability
could never, would never, learn a profession
or keep a steady job or support a family.
Sort of a mystery, right? Something a doctor
stars in their death throes spat out atoms like
iron which this universe had never known. The
novel tidbits of debris were sucked up by infant
suns which, in turn, created yet more atoms when
their race was run. Now the iron of old nova coughings
vivifies the redness of our blood. Deep ecologists
and fundamentalists urge that our faces point
backward and that our eyes turn down to contemplate
a man-made hell. If stars step constantly upward,
why should the global interlace of humans, microbes,
plants, and animals not move upward steadily as
well? The horizons toward which we can soar are
within us, anxious to break free, to emerge from
our imaginings, then to beckon us forward into
fresh realities. We have a mission to create,
for we are evolution incarnate. We are her self-awareness,
her frontal lobes and fingertips. We are second-generation
star stuff come alive. We are parts of something
3.5 billion years old, but pubertal in cosmic
time. We are neurons of this planet's interspecies
No matter how dramatic the end result, the
good-to-great transformations never happened
in one fell swoop. There was no single defining
action, no grand program, no one killer innovation,
no solitary lucky break, no wrenching revolution.
We kept thinking that we'd find "the
one big thing," the miracle moment that
defined breakthrough. We even pushed for it
in our interviews. But the good-to-great executives
simply could not pinpoint a single key event
or moment in time that exemplified the transition.
Frequently, they chafed against the whole
idea of allocating points and prioritizing
factors. In every good-to-great company, at
least one of the interviewees gave an unprompted
admonishment, saying something along the lines
of, "Look, you can't dissect this thing
into a series of nice little boxes and factors,
or identify the moment of 'Aha!' or the 'one
big thing.' It was a whole bunch of interlocking
pieces that built one upon another."
At The End: The Shape of Transition
things start and then they stop, but in the
dynamic through which organisms grow and become,
endings come first and beginnings come last....
In transition, whatever comes next holds
sway over what went before it. Transition
is a great game of stone-paper-and-scissors,
where whatever comes nextwhatever succeeds,
as we were saying beforeautomatically
wins. The new thing carries the day, spring
supplants winter, the new year sends the old
year packing. But there is no antagonism in
this. Just succession. As long as our transitions
continue, we are success-ful.
Swirls of Fundamental Opposites
this only involved a clash of opposites we
wouldn't be so confused. We'd just take sides
and have at it. In fact, it involves so many
sets of fundamental opposites whirling around
each other in so many furious swirls, at so
many purposes and cross-purposes, with so
many conscious and unconscious intentions,
at such speed, with such force, that words
like "political" and "psychological"
and "economic" and "religious"
and "scientific" and "artistic"
grow every day more pitifully inadequate,
more obviously limited, and we grope staggering
toward a worldview that could include all
the words without being classified and confined
by any of them.