Monday, April 25, 2011

Paragraphs. Life Lessons in Bite Size Pieces

"Life will come at you from out of nowhere.
And into nowhere it will return."
- Pappi Conpelo.

January 21. 11:00 a.m. Email arrived from my friend John Pace of Bothell, Washington, (July 2010 newsletter "Somewhere in the midst of our conversation he offers, 'You know, hospitals are interesting places to study people. In the morning you can read hope and good wishes in the way they carry their bodies. By evening -'"). John's email was replying to one I sent earlier today suggesting he the news at AOL regarding the Boeing 787 aircraft progress - actually lack of progress. John, a highly skilled consulting engineer and pilot has spent years finding and fixing Boeing mistakes. When John and I walked the forests at the 2010 summer Leaders' Retreat we talked about how management mindsets regarding the 787 situation could possibly mirror the mindsets held by expedition leaders of the 1997 ill-fated climbs on Mount Everest (see "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer), and mindsets of managers at NASA and Morton Thiocol prior to the Challenger disaster (1986), and similarly at NASA preceding the disintegration of the Columbia (2003). John's words today by email, "Thanks for the link, all I can do is shake my head. The US auto industry had to learn not to let the accountants run everything, and now Boeing needs to learn to not let salesmen and purchasing people run everything. They are at high risk of not getting certified." Reading what John has written I recall times I've received requests from potential clients asking for a lowering of standards in order to save time or make more money or deliver something "a little sexier". Usually accompanied with, "You need to understand, we're different here. We're smarter than most people. We can skip the lead-up and the introduction and get to the juicy stuff." My response? Calmly refuse the work, state my reasons why and let the client walk on. Not a formula for quick riches, but the night's sleep sure feels good. FYI, for the Boeing link Click here.

January 21. 3:30 p.m. The shadows outside Starbucks at Truckee's Northstar Ski Resort say today's sun is on a waning trail. The rapidly falling temperature agrees. My youngest son, Alex, has been snow boarding his heart out for hours. Good for him. Doing what he cherishes, pushing his edge on great snow. He loves returning to the cold white powder, to the speed and to the thrill that all of this offers. Not my bag of tea. But his way is not my way. I confess that there was a time that I wished it were. Not any longer. Life's too important to be spent trying to live up to someone else's expectations, or another's personal dream of self.

Autumn 2010. A message arrived from Joan-z Cirie. Her rquest, "What's your US mail address?". Our professional paths crossed mine in the late 1980's. A result of that crossing was that her brother, Jack, became a momentary colleague before his untimely death. I sent her a quick reply along with, "Why you ask?" To this she responded - "Because I'm sending you something." Days later a box waits in Petaluma's main post office. A note advises the contents are now mine for well-keeping, "Please do with these as you wish." Unwrapping the box I find: Jack's well-worn training garb, his aikido gi; then his small cherished Marine Corps emblem; and finally his old black three-ring binder. What to do? Follow Joan-z' instructions. So I search my heart. The gi and the emblem, I decide, ought go to a mutual friend. The notebook? It will remain under my stewardship. Yet as I write this today it sits and sits, and images come to me of days when I was very young. Then I would walk with my father in the Arizona desert searching for hidden treasure locked in stone. Mineral Creek, Wooly Wash, Hackberry Wash, Devil's Canyon were among the names of places where stone captured stories could be unlocked and told anew - stories and stones that formed millions of years ago. They exist in the present as fossils and sometimes as geodes. Geodes are formations that occur in sedimentary and certain

volcanic rock. On the outside geodes can appear rough and none-impressive. Stones that you might kick aside and walk right past. Crack open a geode and a treasure of crystal will reveal itself.

Last Week.

My friend, Estevan, informed me that he is re-reading Laurence Gonzales' "Deep Survival". This time his page turning will be effortful, i.e. more than for the sake of just reading something recommended. Now he is into the study and application of what he is finding. Estevan says he found relevance to the way he has been strategizing and acting - particularly when it comes to seeking safety where safety is an illusion. He related to me the incident that precipitated this re-reading. It was such a minor happening: an engine alert on his truck's instrument display triggering physical sensations inside his body that he immediately felt, sensations followed by a flood of automatic mental chatter. Whether one's insight comes from something minor or major - that's not what's important. What's important? Estevan recognized his own chain reactions and touched on something. His awareness shifted his action on the spot. With this his practices have altered. Is this what real learning is about? Hmmmm.

January 22. 7:50 a.m. A friend called. Someone I met five years ago while we both were serving Vantage Corporation in Xiolan, situated on the outskirts of Zhongshan, in China's Guangdong province. We have stayed in contact on and off over the years as both our lives have taken twists and turns. She needed to talk and she needed to be heard. I have two ears. So, I listened. No assessments. No evaluations. No suggestions. No fixing. No comparisons or stories of my own to offer. I just listened, and that alone helped - at least that's what she said. Relatively speaking distance is a thing of the imagination. Ninety- nine hundred miles can shrink to a few centimeters and years can shrink to a moment when we listen. A lifetime can be served when we are willing to simply listen for an hour or so. What is the foundation for service, if not listening? What is the foundation for friendship, if not listening? What is the foundation for education, if not listening? What is the foundation for leadership, if not listening? What is the foundation for any form of healthy relationship - business, international, cross-cultural, cross-generational, employee-employer, with customers, with clients, with vendors - if not listening? Are you hearing this? Are you listening?

January 22. A little while later. Today's the day I've picked to open up Jack Cirie's three ring binder and begin to uncover what this geode holds. There definitely are crystalline gems inside. George Leonard's "The Art of Loving Combat" (Esquire, May 1985); Tim Hose's "FIC Search for KI: Karate and Behavioral Kinesiology" (date unknown); Dr. John Painter's "Confused About Chi (1983); and on and on and on. Then the Ten Precepts of the Key Society (1979) expanded upon. There are notes covering different ways to test one's body learning. In the middle of this old black book sits an entire section of favorite quotes that Jack had accumulated over time. My page turning is slow. Time stops.

January 22nd 4:35pm. My mobile phone rings and I look up from the binder and glance at my watch. I've been here for over four hours. Alex is calling, "Hey Dad, what's up?" His voice, a stream of pulsing energy, is fully alive and he's about to start his final down the mountain, ending our three-day outing. We have a quick chat. Soon we'll head back to a

friend's home in Truckee for supper, then begin our drive home. I flip the phone closed and reflect on the life we've crammed into these last thirty-five hours. I gaze down at the In- Jack's-Binder-Quote staring back at me. It reads: "If love is the answer, could you please rephrase the question." (Lilly Tomlin)

Many of Pappi's lessons came as we sat around evening campfires while he sipped boiled coffee from an old metal cup. One evening he told me he had once heard Fritz Perls' Ghestalt prayer. He said it had touched him so deeply that he had refashioned it for himself and someone special to his life. His eyes closed and his voice lowered. I pulled a pencil from my backpack and dictated.

"I am the person who I am
You are the person who you are
I have my life
You have your life

I do not live to meet your expectations
You do not live to meet my expectations
I walk my way of life
The same is true for you

I ask you to let me learn the lessons of my way
I promise you the same

On the road of life
If we are to meet
It will be beautiful

Whether our meeting
Is for a lifetime or only a moment,
Laughter or tears,
It will still be beautiful"
Pappi and I sat in silence for a long while after that.

(from the Life & Times of Pappi Conpelo)

© Lance Giroux, January 2011

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