Two years ago this week my cousin was in a terrible job-site accident. He worked as a heavy crane operator, and one morning he was crushed between a steel beam that weighed around 10,000 lbs and a large pile of dirt. Somehow, he survived the initial impact. He also survived nearly suffocating because dirt filled his mouth and nose on impact. He made it through maybe 20 surgeries on his knee, shoulder, hips, back, and he fought off sepsis, plus a few other major life-threatening incidents. My count is unofficial, but I think he stared down Death at least five times. He’s by far the toughest person I know. Also the most stubborn. Thank goodness for that; I’m sure it kept him alive.
I’m thinking about him today because of the anniversary of his accident, and because I’m sick, again. For awhile today I was feeling sorry for myself. I’m sick and uncomfortable. My cousin has had to learn to walk again. I’m living in India; he had to live with his parents for over a year while he started his recovery. Parts of his body were destroyed, and he’s had to figure out how to make them work again. I don’t like my food options while this thing works its way through my system. He keeps getting up and defying the odds. I worry if I’ll be well enough to go back to work tomorrow. He’s a miracle. I’m just sick.
In one of his poems, Wendell Berry writes, “Practice Resurrection.”
I’m really glad you’re still here, KS.
In the past three weeks I’ve done three more of Franklin’s virtues: Resolve, Frugality, and Industry, but I didn’t post anything about any of them until now. What follows are some thoughts about each.
February 1, 2014. Last week’s theme was:
Resolve: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
It was a week of getting stuff done! I’ve noticed again and again how important the intention of these practices are. I regularly make to-do lists — in fact, you could track a lot of my movements by the trail of crumpled up slips of paper with crossed out statements and scribbled notes that I leave behind. What’s different about the Resolve experience for me is I find myself consciously putting fewer items on those lists, because I know that if it goes on the list, I’m going to finish that task. Previously, my to-do lists were more like a catalogue of wishes, as in “I wish I could get all this stuff done today.” I’ve joked that sometimes I put things on my to-do list that I’ve already done just so I can cross stuff off in order to make myself feel productive.
Resolve is moving me in a different direction. The week is over and as I look back on it, I see that there were some missed opportunities to take effective action, and I am aware the extent to which this new, intentional energy came in conflict with old patterns of waiting to see what happens. I’m grateful to be able to see this point of conflict — it gives me something to be really conscious of in the next round of Resolve thirteen weeks from now.
February 2, 2014. This week’s virtue is:
Frugality: make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
(My good friend, Walter, absolutely loves this one — here’s to you WTM!) As I see it, I have a tendency to covet and even hoard the things I that I feel are in short supply. It’s easier to see this dynamic in other people than it is to see it in myself, and there’s no greater place to see the long-term impact of scarcity than India. One of the theories about why no one waits in line and everyone insists on being next is that there is a very long history of too many people for the resources that exist here. So, if you don’t go get yours, there won’t be any left. I know a lot of expats have a hard time with this cultural difference from their home countries,, and I think if you fail to recognize the genesis it, you’ll never be able to really get comfortable here.
This scarcity reaction, as I think about it, also offers me a chance to compare my own motivation against this backdrop. Do I ever act like something I want is in scant supply? – are you kidding — that happens often. It’s been sobering to compare myself — one of the winners of the world-wide lottery because I was born into a time and place where safety, health, and education are common expectations — to most of the people I live around, who appear to be scraping to survive a lot of time, and who don’t think about safety, health, and education in a way that I do. Looking outward whether I’m in India or in North America, I recognize that whatever it is that we want more of — food, money, love, travel, professional opportunity, clothes and shoes, nice furniture, praise, etc. — we can’t get enough of, and despite what’s in front of us, we think it’s scarce and we fear it will be gone soon. Turing the focus inward, I see my own patterns fairly clearly. So, I’m imagining a shift, and although I’m not sure what it will look like, I’m excited to move into this space.
It’s been my intention write about the week after it happens, but in this case, I’m going to put a question out there because I know it will be a challenge, and I think stating it this way will make me more likely to rise to meet it. The question is this: How would I behave differently if I told myself that I have enough?
Post- Frugality Week, February 7, 2014 – looking back on the week, I wish I had more time with Frugality. It turns out that my question about behaving differently if I told myself I have enough was really tough to process in some situations. For example, it was easy to not waste money or food, but I found that I wanted to spend my limited time — my most precious resource — with people. It was very hard to walk away from the chance to talk with someone and go do something else like work. There’s always more work to do, so given a choice, I’d much rather talk with someone I don’t have that much opportunity to see, or engage with someone I know well about new ideas or revisit old conversations. Whether just catching up or talking about the complexities of shifting a school curriculum to be completely focused on student inquiry or working through the emotional territory of being far from the familiar, I like the conversations; I want more. My superintendant here often tells us that “learning is social.” I might be using that idea to justify more socializing — seemingly, I can’t get enough of that.
February 15, 2014. So it’s fitting that the next virtue, Industry, follows my experience with Frugality. Franklin says:
Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
This was the hardest of the virtues for me to practice, for as I wrote earlier, I like socializing. In my defense, I process my work that way, and often my best ideas for my classes come through conversation about students, books, and curriculum. So there’s a tension here for me that I’ve felt for the past two weeks because it sometimes is difficult to separate hanging out from laying the groundwork for something great. Learning is social, afterall.
I was able to make some easy decisions about being industrious — I limited my Facebook and online news reading dramatically. This created time for me especially in the morning to accomplish more than I’d be able to recently because I’d previously been lying in bed reading. Being aware of how much time I spent online made me see how important it is for me to maintain a connection back to the U.S. I’ve followed several stories back home ranging from the snow on the East Coast to the social and political dynamics of sports and entertainment industries. Perhaps I wouldn’t miss these things if I didn’t have access to the Internet, and I’m aware of the comparative experience of my dad and his Peace Corps friends in Nepal in the mid-60s who all wrote home regularly despite having to wait weeks and weeks for responses. Interesting comparative statistic: I’ve received exactly one piece of mail here in nearly seven months.
Unfortunately, I haven’t written much these past few weeks. Franklin would likely frown at my for this. Partly I was away from my writing because I was trying to be more industrious at first, but it got away from me a little and soon I was not writing because I thought I needed to do other things more in line with getting stuff done. Balance is key and perhaps the whole point of these virtues. It’s early — I’ll get several more shots at this theme and this balance thing in 2014.