Saturday, August 31, 2013

Soar Like an Eagle

Yesterday coming home from downtown Greenville, I managed to get turned around and ended up on the wrong street. The city has changed since I left in 1978. There is much I have forgotten in thirty five years. I knew where that road intersected with a major highway that would take me home, so making the correct turn was my only concern. On two occasions I have written about the economic rebirth of Greenville, SC. It is nothing short of a miracle. I left a dying textile town. I returned to a beautiful new city based on a diversified economy. Greenville is the ninth fastest growing city in the United States for a reason.

The route I ended up taking home ran along the edge of what was once called the mill triangle. Today the mills are still there, but they are closed. The small businesses and strip malls that once served the working poor are in pretty bad shape. It is a story I have seen repeated throughout the state of South Carolina. From my unofficial explorations of my new home state over the last few years in search of a retirement home, there appears to be a tale of two states. The Greenville area (including Geer, Anderson, and Clemson), the Columbia area, and Charleston are doing very well. South Carolina off the Interstates is dying. Old style company towns from the textile era are drying up and blowing away (even Spartanburg is suffering from too much dependence on companies like Milliken). Rural, agricultural South Carolina has always been poor. But even in booming areas like Greenville, there seems to be a tale of two states. The older textile neighborhoods look like too many people never made the transition to a new world.

Change is inevitable. Everything that I love and hold dear (including my own life) will ultimately fade away. How we deal with the storms and vicissitudes of life define our success or failure as a human being. Maintaining internal virtues like compassion, faith, love, and equanimity in the face of personal disasters or injustice is the mark of a high quality human. Continuing to do the right thing even when it doesn’t seem to work any more makes you the man or the woman that God wants you to be.

We know what is important. It starts in our hearts. Do we nourish the plants that will in time produce the fruits of righteousness, peace, and joy or do we nourish thoughts of bitterness, selfishness, and violence? Be certain that the trees you choose to nourish will produce its harvest in your life.

It is hard to continue to be a good employee in an unfair situation. It is even harder to continue to look for work when your expectations lie broken at your feet. I have seen this error take two forms.

In the first, good men who have been rewarded their entire life by pushing the blue button (following their old path) continue to push that button long after it has been disconnected from any power supply. They need to try pushing the red button, or the white button, or any other available button, but they won’t do it. They are too certain of their own mastery of a profession or a trade. As Shunryu Suzuki observed, “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few.” They can’t see beyond what is gone.

The second error is surrender. Recently, I spoke with a woman who for many years served as a work force development counselor. In the last recession she finally gave up in frustration. Too many of her clients didn’t really want here services. They were content with unemployment. She said in some instances after a month and a half these people had not even updated their resumes. She asked, “What else do they have to do?” This woman started a company in a totally unrelated field. Today she has created a fulltime job for herself and five employees.

As these people gradually sink further into poverty and despair, the social fabric of their families and their community begins to disintegrate. Depression, illness, substance abuse, single parent families, divorce, and crime are the fruits of despair. Turn on the local TV news in the morning. You will hear reports about this harvest.

Whoever you are; whatever your condition, if you are still sucking air you can improve your life. Consider the eagle. I have heard that an eagle will get away from another bird that it finds annoying by simply spreading its wings and flying higher until the other bird simply gives up. How high can an eagle fly? No one knows for sure, but there are numerous reports from hang glider pilots of eagles flying at altitudes in excess of 15,000 feet. There is every reason to believe that eagles can continue to soar to higher altitudes where man would require bottled oxygen to survive.

Birds and airplanes take off by facing into the wind. What would seem to be adversity in fact generates the lift that allows them to leave the ground. I’m not saying it is easy, but I challenge you to face the winds in your life—and soar!

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