Saturday, April 25, 2009

People, Projects and the Tinderbox

I’ve always been a project person. I get involved and consumed in a variety of activities: work, sports, hiking, snowshoeing, writing, teaching, collecting shells. I’m not one to sit around relaxing. After a few quiet minutes I jump up to work on a project. There’s a good part to this. I get a lot done, but I can overdo it. It’s only in recent years that I’ve learned to relax more on weekends, taking a break to read a book by the pool or catch a nap. There is a golden mean, a balance between frenzy and sloth. There’s a time to charge ahead and a time to take a break.Another dimension is that I tend to get absorbed in the project at hand and lose sight of the human touch, focusing more on the activity than the people I’m with. When my kids and I were in Indian Guides and Indian Princesses, a father/kid program (which seems to no longer be politically correct) sponsored by the YMCA, I heard two stories that hit home. Every year in May we had the Spring Pow Wow, a gathering at the YMCA of the Rockies camp in Estes Park. Over a weekend we swam, played miniature golf, bowled, rode horses, fished, had a campfire and hiked. On Sunday morning the leader held a brief service from which I remember two relevant stories. First, was a discussion about the Cat Steven’s song, “The Cat’s in the Cradle.” This song relates the story of a father who was too busy to spend time with his son. When the son grows up, he’s too busy to spend time with his father. The punch line: “He grew up to be just like me.” For us A-type personalities the message was clear. Make the effort to spend quality time with your kids. Second, the leader told the story of the Tinderbox: Two Indian braves were chosen to compete to become the next chief of the tribe. Each was given a tinderbox with an ember and told to scale the distant sacred mountain and light a fire at the top. The first to succeed would become the new chief. They charged off. Half way up the mountain, the first brave came to an old man shivering beside a pile of wood. “Please help me light my fire so I won’t freeze to death,” the old man begged. The Indian brave looked at the old man with disdain. “I have no time for that,” he said. “I have to get to the top of the mountain to become chief.” So he left the old man huddled in the cold. Moments later the second brave came upon the old man. “Please help me light my fire,” the old man pleaded. The second brave could see the first brave climbing up ahead. He knew that if he stopped, he’d surely lose the race and not become chief. He looked back at the old man shivering in the cold and knew that he couldn’t leave him there to freeze to death. So he took the ember out of his tinderbox and used it to start a fire for the old man. Once the fire was going briskly, he removed a fresh ember and put it in his tinderbox. He knew it was futile, but he continued up the mountain. Down below the people watched and waited. Suddenly, a fire appeared on the top of the sacred mountain. It was the fire from the second brave. The first brave had reached the top first, but when he went to light a fire, his ember had burned out. The second brave arrived later, but his new ember was still glowing. He lit a fire and became chief. Remember the human element and take the time to replenish your embers.

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