It’s been 32 years since I listened to Sinéad O’Connor on compact disc in college. But after watching her documentary Nothing Compares I’ve been listening with different ears via Spotify, and I’ve been reflecting upon the serenity prayer.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change
Courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference
As an information architect, I am an agent of change. I help my clients to imagine and plan next-generation websites and software. But I’m also subject to change. I must adapt to the unpredictable twists and turns of my consulting projects.
For instance, last year I worked with one of the world’s most admired companies on a .com website refresh. Or that’s how it was described at first. A few weeks into the project, it became obvious their customers’ problems would not be solved by reshuffling marketing content. A holistic restructuring of all web properties (e.g., Docs, Dev, Community, Support) was required. From my perspective, this was a massive yet welcome change. I now had an opportunity to make a real difference.
After the pivot, my clients and I made great progress, but then we were blindsided by a hostile marketing executive. The end was quite dramatic. I was about to begin my final presentation. We were on Zoom with 35 people from myriad departments when we were told to cancel. My client’s boss’ boss banned the delivery.
If this had occurred early in my career, I’d have been devastated. But after 30 years of consulting, I’m not easily rattled. I’ve earned the wisdom to know the difference.
A couple years back we bought a 48 acre farm in Virginia and became guardians of cats, dogs, chickens, goats, cows, and horses. As a beginner, I’ve made mistakes.
For instance, I bought 8 hens, or so I thought. At 3 months, 4 of our hens began to cock-a-doodle-doo. So I bought an Eglu Cube and moved Loki, Freya, Kali, and Mazu to the goat yard. Well, they soon escaped and rediscovered the hens. So I moved them to our other barn. But a few weeks later, they hiked 350 yards uphill through forest and pasture to find the hens. So I moved them to the clearing by our pond. And the next day a fox took them all in broad daylight.
I was heartbroken. I felt guilty. It was my job to protect them. And I failed. So I built a sanctuary: a half acre of forest protected by an 8 foot fence. And I bought a silkie, Spike, and 2 bantams, Bruce and Elvis. Well, as soon as I put them in the sanctuary, Elvis flew over the fence to roost on a branch 20 feet up. Man plans, and roosters laugh.
But mostly life was good in the rooster sanctuary until the cows bulldozed my fence. The grass was greener on the other side, apparently. So I built a two strand electric fence with a solar charger. After that, things went well, until I saw the holes. Someone had cut holes near the ground all around the perimeter, or so I thought. After calling the cops, I realized it was animals chewing through the plastic. So I decided to attach a foot of chicken wire to the fence bottom all around. This brings us to last week.
My wife Susan tested positive for COVID-19 this morning. So that sucks. But it’s been a warm, sunny day, and I’ve finally secured the perimeter. As dusk nears, I put the roos to bed, when I see a cat is trapped inside the sanctuary. Of course! So I kneel down to create an escape hatch, when I’m suddenly flat on my back. I’d been hit on the head with a blunt object, or so I thought. Turns out I touched my forehead to a live wire.
Bad luck? Maybe. I keep in mind the koan of the farmer. We are wired to try to predict and control the future and to classify everything as good or bad. But we mostly don’t know. We lack the wisdom to know the difference. Our daughter lost her job last year. She was devastated. Until she got a much better job. Good luck? Maybe.
Always Be Transcending
Shuhada’ Sadaqat has had a hard life. Her story made me cry. And yet her songs are transcendent. In her screams of “I’ll die. But I will rise. And I will return. The Phoenix from the flame,” there’s so much pain, so much passion, so much courage.
Last summer, the fox took 2 hens, also in broad daylight. Fences and goats failed to keep them safe. So Asha became a guardian dog. Every afternoon she works her shift. I love watching the interspecies interplay. Life is better than before the fox.
When I was young, I took pride in my ability to plan and execute. Change made me angry. But now I feel so different. I know “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Surprise invites curiosity. What did I miss? How do I make things better? Rather than get angry at myself or the world, I delight in disaster improv.
Earth laughs in flowers
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Or I try to. Sometimes I get knocked down, and I’m too tired to get up. And some things can’t be fixed. So I tell my story and like the earth with flowers, we laugh.