As I read the “The Sycamore” by Wendell Berry, I am reminded of a trip my wife and I made to Coorg, India. Each night we were entertained by the family’s cook. His stories graciously synthesized the family wisdom of each day.
I remember my first meeting Russ Ackoff forty years ago at his office at the Wharton School. On his door were taped three academic articles. I asked what they were. He shared “the best personal information system in the world is a set of graduate students who know me and know what I am currently interested in. These articles are the selected results of their research yesterday.”
Rick Jackson handed me a copy of “The Sycamore” near the end of another engaging conversation. I was stunned at how deeply it captured my journey of the last 19 months.
“In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that has not harmed it. There is a hollow in it
that is its death, though its living brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place and feeds upon it,
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.”
Each line brings forth memories of my building resilience journey.
I had to pause and reflect with this line “It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.” How have the accidents in my life developed or changed my purpose? I immediately thought of David Sinclair‘s Lifespan and how epigenetics order our development AND record all the “accidents” in our lives:
“Epigenetic information is what orchestrates the assembly of a human newborn made up of 26 billion cells from a single fertilized egg and what allows the genetically identical cells in our bodies to assume thousands of different modalities….”
“Broken DNA causes genome instability, I wrote, which distracts the Sir2 protein, which changes the epigenome, causing the cells to lose their identity and become sterile while they fixed the damage. Those were the analog scratches on the digital DVDs. Epigenetic changes cause aging.”
Sinclair, David . Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To . Atria Books. Kindle Edition.
While I don’t have a sycamore in the view from my chair, I do have a tall cedar. It has withstood earthquakes and mud slides and escaped the destruction from the building of our neighborhood. For 20 years it is the first thing I see as look for Mt Rainier. Now I wonder what accidents it has adapted to its purpose.
Thank you Rick. As one of my storytellers, you have come to know me.