Fri 17 Apr 2009
Three very disparate events in the last 24 hours have left me reeling, each in different directions.
Sun: Yesterday at 10:30 in the morning, in Carson City, NV, I had arguably the greatest impact I’ll ever have, on anything, in my life, the birth of my two daughters Maren and Juniper notwithstanding. After several months of work through Black Rock Solar, we were able to convince the Nevada Public Utility Commission to vote unanimously to approve dumping 6.5 megawatts of solar power rebates back into the pool. Worth $26 million on their face, and worth half again that for the federal incentives they can trigger, it will result in vast oceans of solar power being built that otherwise wouldn’t have been. Clear enough. Good for the world, etc etc etc.
Shooter: Today, 9am. On arriving at work, got a call from Andie letting me know that Caleb “Shooter” Shaber, long a nemesis of sorts, had killed himself. Caleb is the closest thing to an enemy I’ve ever had. His slashing critiques of things I’ve done, like the work with Burners Without Borders and the Green Man theme of Burning Man drove me absolutely to the edge. The archive of those arguments on Tribe.net could fill volumes. I’d spent countless hours talking to him about issues, patiently explaining things, butting heads, living sometimes in actual fear of him and his arroused anger. In time, the talking got somewhere, and in recent months I’d a good rapport with him. But as soon as the walls were down in our disputes about those topics, I never took the time to go the next step and be curious enough, and courageous enough, to drill down into him as a person. He was a passionate, driven, principled person, like me I suppose, but I didn’t go that next step. I didn’t have time in my life for a crazy person, who cared as deeply as I did about many of the same things, but with an unhinged ferocity that I feared would overwhelm me. And so I shut him out. And last night, as the person who was with him described it, in a moment the lights went out in his face, he fumbled for a weapon and shotguns shells, and took his own life.
Susan: Tonight, like tens of millions around the world this week, I watched Susan Boyle stun an audience in Glasgow with her singing. The surprise of course comes from seeing such a dowdy, nominally unattractive dowager do something “worthwhile,” as though those unattractive are incapable of having something of worth to contribute. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY I’ve watched twice, and the few seconds after she starts singing are something I’ll always treasure.
How these things fit together is a bit hard to see. Let me take a stab at it. I suppose it’s this: I spent most of my time, most of my waking hours, immersed in the pursuit of things external to dealing one on one with people, specifically things “that matter,” that imply a sense of social value. And in so doing, give myself a sense of purpose and worth that serves to obviate and mask the challenges I have dealing with people one on one. Empathy is difficult for me. It’s as though by not letting people in with all their warts and flaws and contradictions, I can somehow maintain the self delusion that the surface is what matters and thus, by implication, that since what I “do” “matters”, I matter. And it extends even to my corporal self; growing up knowing that I was handsome to many has served as a barricade to those that aren’t. I set myself apart somehow through that, as if something I had absolutely nothing to do with made me somehow better. And I knew and know when I’m doing it, and haven’t broken myself of it yet.
And now, in the space of a day and a bit, I’m confronted first hand with the fallacy of all that; the thing I did that “matters so much” really, when it comes down to the level of actual real people in a visceral, blood and bones kind of sense, doesn’t matter a lick. So there’s more solar, so what? Who did I talk to yesterday that was the happier for it?
In December of last year I spent five days with friends from college, including my friend Mark. I’d not invited him to my wedding–it had been years since we’d even spoken, and I sort of thought the friendship had drifted off as they so often do. But seeing several of our mutual friends at the wedding, my friend Preston’s wife decided to surprise him by bringing five close male friends of his-including Mark-together to surprise him in Key West for his 40th Birthday. Mark let me know how let down he’d been, that even though we weren’t in touch our friendship still meant a great deal to him. And in so doing, I realized, to me. But he moved on and past it and got back in the moment as he does so well. And during that weekend I noticed him talking to all sorts of people, just making conversation, being truly interested. Turns out he’d made a new years resolution to speak to every single person he met long enough to learn at least one new thing from them. In so doing, he’d learned that every single person had something to teach him, and that humility and curiosity grew throughout the year, until when I saw him he was genuinely interested in everyone he met, regardless of who they were or their standing. It shouldn’t surprise that Mark is an exceptionally well do to, very successful business man.
To my remorse, I realize now I received an email from Caleb within the last week, and never replied. I was too busy to take the time:
show details Apr 11 (6 days ago) [Green Park Progress Report (photos).doc]
Hope you are well. Thought you might like this. Also, I would like to interview you on solar issues. Will you be around Gerlach any time soon?
What’s the point? I suppose it’s the all too familiar cliched one, so extant from its truth: we fail to take the time to care about EVERYONE at our own peril. We loose when we don’t care enough to care, when we prejudge for no reason. And when we do, the greatest achievements, no matter how “important,” don’t matter in the least.
May I learn from this. May I still care enough to try to help, yes. But also may Caleb rest in peace he so long lived without. And may I speak warmly to the next Susan I meet, from a studied intent at first but hopefully over time with genuine ease that comes of practice. Because she, and he, and you, are all that really matters in this world.
a poorly written post, but one which needed writing.