Category Archives: Interdependence

Missing Pieces

For twenty years I’ve worn it, very aware of the message that it carries and the people from whom I received it.  It never comes off (except for this photo), in part due to the eternal message of it.  It’s a hopeful, optimistic, positive message, but one which seems a bit tarnished today, like the silver of the bracelet itself.

IMG_4409When I first received it and began wearing it, this Christmas gift from my children generated more than occasional teasing from friends and colleagues, who seemed to be of the mindset that somehow “real men” didn’t wear bracelets.  In fact, once when a young Mexican boy was admiring the thing, a colleague playfully pulled the boy away, saying that he shouldn’t be looking at “girlie things.”  (Twenty years ago, attitudes about many things were quite different from the present, as evidenced by the endless variety of bracelets, jewelry and other adornments worn by men of all ages and stations today.)  These days, I’m more inclined to be asked where I found such a piece.

Of course, the bracelet is special to me because it was gifted from my kids, and at a time when they still carried around with them an air of innocence and joy.  But it also carries a legend, this bracelet.  Its circular shape represents the earth, the wholeness of the place where we live.  But because the earth is broken- with conflicts and environmental degradation and wildly disparate conditions of life- the circle of the bracelet is not complete.  There are pieces missing.

The four brass segments on the circle represent my kids.  They each have a special place in the world, as do all children, and their duty is to help the earth back to a state of wholeness, to fill in the missing places as best they can, along with every other member of the human race.  The earth will not be whole and healthy until the circle is complete.  They and all of us have our own parts to play in the restoration, and each solitary piece is essential to the integrity and strength of the whole.  It’s a notion of both hope and healthy interdependence.

Today there are sadly more missing pieces to this puzzle of life that we lead.  Following a celebratory Saturday night in Managua, where thousands of people joyfully remembered the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship 35 years ago, hundreds of peasants from the countryside boarded buses for the long and uncomfortable ride back home.  Along the way, two buses were attacked by anti-Sandinista sympathizers.  Gunfire was sprayed at the buses, and five people died.  There was no confrontation.  There were no demands made.  Simply bullets unleashed at innocent peasantry, resulting in the deaths of parents and children who had only sought to remember an important and exciting time in the life of Nicaragua.  There are precious few things to celebrate for many in this country; a populist and public commemoration should not have been too much for them to experience without tragedy.  As a result, there are now 5 new pieces missing from the completion of the circle that is represented by the bracelet.  Among them, perhaps the one who would develop the medicinal properties of a rural Nicaraguan plant that would lead to the cure for prostate cancer.

Meanwhile, other senseless tragedies were being played out on far more “newsworthy” stages.  A commercial airliner from The Netherlands and bound for Kuala Lampur was shot down by anti-Ukraine rebels, with 298 souls lost, and many still not found as of this writing.  Among the perished, several would-be participants at an upcoming AIDS conference who might well have posed the solution to the AIDS epidemic facing our world.  And so still more spaces will not be filled along the lines of the bracelet.

And in the Middle East, hundreds of Palestinian and Israeli lives- hundreds of them children- have been lost to the incessant bombing precipitated by the terrors generated by both sides of the insanity.  Among the dead, perhaps, were the two young women who would have devised the plan of Middle East peace which eventually would have been accepted by all parties.  And the spaces in the bracelet grow wider still.

The week has been a grim one, both in terms of the sheer number of lives lost and families rent apart in anguish, but also in consideration of those pieces of the worldly puzzle that are now lost forever.  As we destroy each other with bombs and bullets, we diminish the planet and its finite capacities to discover the answers to our dilemmas.  It is still true that often we do not fully understand or appreciate what we have within our grasp, until it is gone.

I love the bracelet for its symbolism of my children and their importance to this earthly community.  They are universal children, whether I understood that at the time of their birth or not.  But their solid presence on that broken circle at my wrist also reminds me that they- and each of us- possess a unique and important place in this complex place called earth….



Loose Change

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.                            –Albert Einstein

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.                     -Albert Einstein

Change in the effectiveness of development work in Nicaragua will occur as the result of change in its development practitioners.      -Steve Sheppard

Next week’s workshop with rural Nicaraguans will focus heavily on the notion of change: its necessity, its difficulty, its potential and its universality.  Winds of Peace has been invited to make a presentation on the topic based on our own organizational perspective and from the viewpoint of change experienced in a more corporate setting in the U.S.

We’re always eager to share ideas with our Nicaraguan partners when asked.  But in preparing remarks for this session, I found myself perplexed about exactly how to speak with this group of producers, cooperative leaders, second-tier coop organizations and a few other funders.  It’s a great audience for addressing the issues found in the production chain of coffee or other agriculture.  But it seems like the wrong audience for addressing the topic of change in Nicaraguan development efforts.  That audience would best be comprised of international funders, because that’s where the majority of development troubles lie.  The change exhibited there has been loose and not particularly effective.

Let me acknowledge a couple of important facts.  First, as I have said here previously, there are a great many organizations from the U.S. and all over the world which have done great work in making a difference in the lives of the poor.  The intentions of their work are right-minded and their sincerity is unequivocal.  Second, the WPF perspective offered here is not simply an impression or feeling, but rather based upon 30 years of both experience and research in the Nicaraguan field; there is substantial study to support these views.

WPF does not claim to corner the market on development expertise.  We have been involved in Nicaraguan development long enough, however, to know that the most substantive changes which would bring about sustainable development within Nicaragua are those that can only be made by the funders themselves.  And until funders as a group embrace an alternative means of relating to their Nicaraguan partners, development will not accelerate to any meaningful degree beyond its current snail’s pace.

That alternative relationship implies a close and local accompaniment by the funder, knowing the details of the organization being funded, their realities, their obstacles, whatever temptations toward dysfunction they may exhibit, and the methodologies needed to help strengthen the cooperative or association toward healthy collectivism.  Tolerance of “gatekeepers,” autocratic leadership or the presence of self-serving figureheads may ensure the ultimate repayment of a loan, but does not establish a foundation for long-term economic life.  In such cases, the real objective of the lender is the recovery of the funds rather than any development that has occurred.

If the responsibility for development change is in the hands of the funders even more than the recipients, then by extension a significant role is also in the hands of the everyday contributors who make it possible for publicly-funded organizations to operate in the first place.  Neither the amount of money provided by such groups nor the amount they have successfully recovered in their lending programs provide a very reliable barometer of their effectiveness.  It’s the responsibility of donors to truly understand how their contributions are impacting the end users; otherwise, it can be like throwing clear liquid on a flame and hoping that it isn’t gasoline.   It turns out that it’s hard work making effective development investments, but the effort is worth the result to those who seek to improve their circumstances.

Rural Nicaraguans, whether educated or not, are quite perceptive when it comes to the process of requesting funding.  After all, many have had a great deal of experience in it.  And what they have come to learn is that very often donors are focused on the placement and retrieval of their capital, and not so much on the outcomes that result.  Essentially, loan recipients are savvy enough to recognize what they need to say and do in order to achieve funding.  If the primary objective is simply repayment of funds, then that is what will be their priority, as opposed to anything longer-term or more foundational in value.  Repayment of a loan is a good and important thing, but by itself it does not build a future.

All things considered, I guess I’d rather be addressing an audience of funders next week, rather than a group of production chain actors.  While it’s true that change in the expectations of lenders can be driven by the people they serve, the real impetus for substantive strengthening of economic development will come from the lenders tightening their process, or change will be slow to come at all….







Our Cosmic Context


In the coming weeks I’ll be headed back to Nicaragua for a mid-summer visit with rural partners, colleagues and a changing culture.  The sources of transformations in Nicaraguan society are many, of course, just as they are in the U.S. and virtually every other place in the world that has access to news, the Internet and cell phone technology.  Our nations are no longer isolated places where lifestyles and mores can exist separate from each other, if indeed they ever were.

Change can be either something that happens to us or something that we create with deliberate intent.  The topic of the workshop that we will attend (along with some fifty small growers, cooperative members, second-tier coop leaders, lenders, and others in the chain of agricultural production) will focus on the power in creating and harnessing change in productive ways.  By having all of the actors in the chain of production participate in the two-day session, their interdependence becomes far more evident than if the attendance consisted of one group only.  Interdependence and collaborative work are essential components to sustainable development in Nicaragua or anywhere.

Winds of Peace has been asked to contribute some thoughts on the topic of change within the context of that interdependence.  We have some thirty years of our own history of change and a wealth of experiences encountered during that time.  Those observations may prove to be worthy of discussion and application for our Nicaraguan audience. But I’ve wanted to envision something else to share, a view which, of its own nature, might generate an entirely different way of imagining our circumstances and relationships, establishing our priorities and values, beholding our very lives.  I’ve been frustrated in identifying that seedling of potentially transformative perspective until now.

I have been reading a book authored by Dr. Carl Sagan entitled, Pale Blue Dot.  It’s an exciting and deeply imaginative work by arguably the most popular and well-known astronomer and astrophysicist of recent generations; indeed, Sagan’s mixture of science and imagination are the ingredients of his notoriety.  Imbedded within this book about our tiny planet- the “pale blue dot-” is a passage that has given me significant pause as I think about the scope and content of change over my own short existence on this earth:

bluedot[Seen from about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40 astronomical units), Earth appears as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right) within the darkness of deep space.]

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

The words take me to a different place, where I am forced to think of the world around me in a much broader context than daily life normally provides.  Our self-importance, aspirations of grandeur, competitions for position and slights issued in the name of advancement crumble under the context of a pale blue dot floating anonymously through a universe so immense as to be incomprehensible.

The magnitude of the cosmos may not immediately suggest answers to the complexities of more efficiently getting product to market from the Nicaraguan countryside.  But sometimes dreams of cosmic proportions provide insights  to our selves that we might never have perceived through shorter sightedness.  We need the stretch of the implausible, the unlikely.   Besides, the challenges of everyday lives of Nicaraguans will never be solved by too-narrow thinkers whose solutions are restricted by current circumstance or self-serving acts.  The  answers to the conundrum of change are more likely to be found in contemplation of  broader horizons.

I’m not at all sure that the “pale blue dot” will resonate with the workshop participants the way that it has for me; like the act of dreaming itself, sometimes you just have to try it to see what happens.  But if there’s even a small chance that the message might impact a genuinely searching mind, it’s a prospect worth the stating.  And eventually, an outlook which we must all take into account…

Feeling Sick

I’m feeling sick and trying hard to get over it.

Normally I wouldn’t use this venue to talk about an illness, but it has bothered me enough to compel my address of it.  It has even hampered my ability to compose entries here in recent weeks.  But I’m compelled to write about a disease that has become omnipresent, a low-grade ache that I cannot seem to shake and which even keeps me awake at night.  Aspirin doesn’t help.  In the midst of my best years, I am finding myself hampered from enjoying my days to their fullest.  Worst of all, there seems to be no forthcoming cure.  I find myself wondering whether I’m simply relegated to suffering through the symptoms, which are like some unrelenting fever.

I can trace the earliest signs of my discomfort to a visit in Nicaragua.  I tried to ignore the feeling because I didn’t really have any idea what to do about it there.  (Lots of people become sick when they’re traveling and it just seems easier to try to forget about the knot in your stomach than to seek treatment from someone who doesn’t even speak your language.)  I remember being in a conversation with a group of Nicaraguan producers who spoke of their children leaving the country, in search of work and opportunity, and the anguish that it was causing the parents and community.  I can’t recall too much about the specifics of what they were saying because of my growing ache; that was my first awareness that something wasn’t right.

I felt a bit better after I returned home.  At first I thought maybe it I just needed to get back to the comforts of my own home, diet and routines.  Every once in a while the distress returned, sometimes for a short time and on other occasions for days on end.  The symptoms always subsided, however, and I was able to resume my daily activities without being slowed down.  I just kept hoping that it would go away.  Sometimes denial of a complaint seems like the best treatment for it.  But the condition has worsened and ignoring it becomes more difficult for me every day.

I wish I had known about this disorder earlier and that I had acquired some awareness of its potential severity.  Like most of us, I found it easier to pay no attention to what was happening until one day I came down with it.  For a long time, I don’t think people in the U.S. talked too much about the extent of the malady.  Lately, though, I hear more conversation from those who have been affected.  A friend of mine even forwarded a blog that someone had written about the problem.

It seems strange, but “misery does love company” and I gain some sense of hope from the increase in the numbers of those who are experiencing the same festering that I am.  Long-term remedies often come about only when a significant number of people are afflicted and calls for relief can no longer be denied.  I know that our Federal government is aware of the problem, though I’m not aware of any significant work that is being done toward developing a cure as yet.

I never envisioned myself becoming much of an activist in the eradication of an epidemic.  I guess I never thought I’d become a victim.  But I’m hoping that by speaking out on something that can be rightfully considered the early stages of a pandemic, I might encourage others to help find a way toward a more successful treatment.

Of course, to treat the symptoms, we’ll have to get to the viral cause of the ailment.  And that will necessitate a full-out humanitarian effort to embrace the nearly 60,000 illegal migrants- mostly young boys and girls- being warehoused after apprehension on the southern border of the U.S.  For their circumstance is the source of my discomfort.  From Nicaragua and many other points south, refugees are risking their lives to cross our borders, not for nefarious reasons but for their outright survival.  And their plight is making me sick.

There is a recognition in the wellness community which holds that we can never attain our own maximum well-being as long as those around us are not well.  I can think of no more dramatic example of such truth than the border tragedy, which in time will infect each of us.  It’s time that we stopped denying the symptoms and dealt openly with the disease….


Leaving the Light On, Conclusion

As recounted in the two most recent blog entries here, two ice fishing adventurers became lost in a Lake Superior blizzard on February 15, until they somehow managed to spot a yardlight on our home at the end of Madeline Island.  After the labors of climbing up the cliff to reach our yard, the young man and woman revived themselves at our house and then we started the blizzard-battered trek to La Pointe, the only town on the island and their only reasonable chance of finding travel back to the mainland and their truck.

The North Shore Road lay deep and white with the new snow, even in the dark.  No vehicles had traveled on it for hours.  Between the plowed, high snow walls on either side of the narrow road and the new inches that were falling by the minute, we might have been in an advertisement for all-wheel drive vehicles.  Our twenty-five minute distance required nearly forty minutes.  As we finally pulled into the port town, the lights of The Beach Club burned brightly and I could tell in the timbre of our voices that an air of hopefulness had lifted each of us.  But finding lights versus anyone willing to venture out across the ice road on this night were two distinctly different things.  The odds were not in favor of our two  passengers.

Quite surprisingly, a man stood outside the door to The Beach Club, bravely inhaling a cigarette despite the elements.  We were shocked to see anyone on this night.  But my new acquaintance declared that he would be the first opportunity for getting home.  Our refugee jumped out of the car and ran over to where the smoker was hunched up against the cold.

The three of us watched from the warmth of our car, nervously curious as to the conversation between the two men that was actually taking more time than we had anticipated.  Meanwhile, we could see inside The Beach Club, and noticed the absence of many patrons; the chances of finding help seemed dim and Katie and I later confessed to each other that we had begun to think about lodging our unexpected guests at the house for the night.

Our sojourner trotted back to the car.  He jumped into the back seat with a wide grin on his face, and explained the next piece of very good fortune that he had experienced this night.  The smoking man owned a four-wheel drive truck and was soon to head to the mainland over the ice road.  He would be happy to take the young couple all the way back  to their truck at Red Cliff.  And just as quickly as the emergency had materialized, it suddenly was resolved.  The couple thanked us, promising to return the following morning to reclaim their crippled sled.

All that remained for Katie and me was the return trip to the house, now in conditions that were worsening by the moment.  The winds created drifts across the roadway, already nearly obliterating our tracks from the trip to town.  It’s a road well-known to us, though at moments we felt as though traveling circles inside a snow globe, such was the lack of visibility and the endlessness of the road.  We felt a curious mixture of both anxiety and exhilaration feeding our excitement during the 45 minutes back home, and utter relief as we eased into the garage.

Our newfound acquaintances did return on Sunday morning.  The brightness of a perfectly sunny day made for a very different feel for this visit, however.  They laughed and even rejoiced in reliving their tale from the night before, already honing its details for retelling it as a new lake legend.  But our final good-byes carried more gravity.  We all seemed to understand the seriousness of what had taken place, and how very differently things could have turned out, except for a series of serendipitous acts.  What if he had not discerned the open water?  What if I had not turned on the yardlight?  What if he had not removed his helmet, enabling him to notice the light?  What if there had been a fall at the cliff wall?  What if we had not been at home?  Unspoken, these contingencies played themselves out in our thoughts.  As if to punctuate, the young man’s final words to me underscored the obvious: “Whatever you do, make sure you leave that yardlight on!”

And then they were gone.  We have thought about our night visitors often and told the tale as often as circumstances invited it.  We shake our heads at the recollection of that night, the conditions, Nature living out its own reality, the specter of Lake Superior, even in its dormant, frozen state.  The adage of Lake Superior is no less true in winter than in summer: The Lake is the boss.

But what I have come to reflect upon as often as those wintry details is what the moment presented to each one of us as those details played themselves out.  The young couple began their day by challenging the rawness of winter’s worst, staking out their claim on a frozen lake.  Later in the day, the young man repeatedly placed himself in harm’s way for the sake of his girlfriend.  For her part, the young lady withstood a blizzard’s barrage, the dangers of the cold and even loneliness on that sled, all without evident complaint or anger; she retained her sense of partnership and collaboration with her young man.

As for Katie and me, we were simply involved by virtue of a fate of time and place.  We were also receptive to the service that we might render, though upon reflection I frequently wonder what more we could have, should have done.  When a moment of human need presents itself so clearly and with such impact, we like to feel as though the “light has been left on,” that we are ready to respond, capable of giving all that is needed, selfless as necessary and generous as though our own survival depended upon it.

In fact, maybe our own welfare does depend upon it.  Many of us spend our lifetimes seeking purpose and meaning when, in fact, the significance of our existence is no more complex than the small opportunities in everyday living to be of service, to answer a call, to provide light for those who are momentarily lost.  It can happen in the darkness of night on Madeline Island or the searing sun of Nicaragua and at all points in between.  We are not afforded the luxury of knowing in advance when or how such opportunities will occur, only that they will.

On February 15, Katie and I turned on a light, answered our doorbell, made hot cocoa, and drove to town.  Ours were not grand or heroic actions.  And yet in the words of the young couple who sought rescue from a winter tempest on Lake Superior, we might well “have saved their lives.”  And who knows what the outcome of that might eventually prove to be….




Leaving the Light On, Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog post, published here last week, I began recounting the events of February 15.  While visiting the remote north end of Madeline Island during this cold and snowy winter, a blizzard blew in from the northeast.  By evening, the conditions were entirely whiteout and bitterly cold.  But to the astonishment of my wife and me, our doorbell rang at approximately 6:30.  A young man- hatless, red-faced and breathless- tried to tell us of his plight.

“I’ve got to get my girlfriend up from our snowmobile at the base of your cliff; she’s still down there.  We were out on the lake and the storm rolled in and when I headed for shore my GPS died.  So I tried to keep a straight course for the mainland but must have been turned around and we drove until I saw a large black mass ahead.  I slowed down, thinking it was land, but as I got closer I saw that it was open water!  We turned around and headed back the way we came, and then my headlamp went out.  I couldn’t see a thing in the whiteout, so I tried to follow my own tracks.  I had to take off my helmet to have even a chance of seeing anything.  We had about given up when I thought I saw a dot of light in this direction.  I headed for it and as we got closer, the light became brighter and more continuous.  I followed it right to the base of your property.  But my girlfriend is still down on the snowmobile; I couldn’t get her up the cliff.  I climbed up myself and got to your door.  I don’t even know where I am.  We need some help.”

The story was a lot to take in, standing there in the doorway with a blizzard on the other side of it.  I was amazed that anyone out on the ice could have possibly seen the yard light I had turned on to watch the snowfall.  The cliff that he had scaled is a good 70 feet of vertical, ice-coated sandstone.  The woods that he had waded through confronted him with 100 yards of waist-deep snow.  The young man needed to catch his breath and his calm before anything further.

“We never even checked the weather while we were out there,” he lamented.  “I couldn’t believe how bad it was when looked out at 4:30.  And then we couldn’t see anything at all.  Man, when we saw that open water we were scared out of our minds.  We just tore away from there.”  As he rambled on, I thought about dialing  911 on the Island, or calling my contractor friend Tibbs, and wildly thinking about who else might be able to render some serious assistance if it became needed.  But not tonight.  For better or worse, we were the rescuers.

We agreed that the first order of business was to somehow help his girlfriend up the cliff and into the warm house.  I provided stout rope and a large-beam flashlight, and he assured me that he would be able to help her up with only these tools.  While he headed back to the edge of the cliff, I dressed for the storm and prepared the car for a journey to La Pointe, despite the conditions of the night.  Katie shut down the kitchen and prepared herself and Murphy for our unplanned outing.  On this night of all nights to remain indoors, we prepared to go out.  Finally, some twenty minutes later, the two wayward adventurers came in from the cold at last.

The young woman stumbled into the room with her boyfriend right behind.  Her hair was soaking wet, her face a burned crimson from the cold.  Her snowmobile suit had become caked with snow and ice, which began to melt in the warmth of the entry room.  Katie offered a hot drink.  She accepted even as she crumpled to the floor with exhaustion.  I could tell that the young man felt some relief, having his girlfriend finally indoors, but his questions continued to pour out faster than I could answer them.

“How far are we from La Pointe?  How far is that from the mainland?  Do you have any gas that I could buy, to try to make it to La Pointe?  What time is it?  Is there anyone in town at all?”  As he fired the questions, it dawned on me that these two pilgrims were the ones who had occupied the solitary space on the ice, away from the cluster of fishers we had seen earlier in the day.

I explained to this thawing apparition that he had come ashore at the far end of Madeline Island, 14 miles from the town of La Pointe, or at least as the crow flies.  But with no light for the sled, he would have to follow all of the bays and inlets along the shoreline to navigate to town.  “I don’t have enough gasoline for that,” he said.  Additionally, I had no gasoline at all.

As we answered his questions, his frenzied energies began to ease a bit and he elaborated on the story of how they came to be in our house.  “After we lost the GPS, I figured that we could stop and put up our fishing hut again if we had to, because I had two bottles of propane that probably would have kept us OK for heat through the night.  But we didn’t really want to stay out there all night.  I really thought we were on a straight line back to the mainland when we left.  Then I started to notice that there were more frequent ice upheavals and we hadn’t really seen many of them before.  It turns out that they were more of them toward the edge of that open water.”  He stopped talking for a moment and stole a quick glance at his girlfriend sitting on the floor.  “I couldn’t believe that water.  If we had gone in, nobody would have ever found us; our tracks would have been totally covered by morning.”

The hot cocoa was working its magic on the young woman by now and soon she was on her feet again.  The two made it clear that their objective was to not only get back to their truck on the mainland this night, but also to travel back to their homes, nearly two hours away from where the truck had been parked.  Their plan was to return to the Island on Sunday, drive out to our location with fresh gas and the advantage of daylight, and then rendezvous in La Pointe for the eventual trip home.

The young man asked, sheepishly, whether we might be willing to drive them all the way to the mainland across the ice road which linked the two lands.  But I had to invoke my long-held pledge that I would never drive across the ice at night, for any reason.  Too many horror stories about vehicles taking the plunge into the frigid waters of Superior had long ago disavowed me of any appetite for that kind of adventure.  I apologized for my reticence and vowed that we’d get them to La Pointe and whatever other forms of help they might need, though I had absolutely no idea who or what we might find in town on this storming night….

Once again, time and space tell me to stop for now.  I’ll conclude this tale and what it has to teach next week in the final part.  I hope you’ll come back for the ending….


Taking the Week Off

Things were quiet in Nicaragua last week, a good change from the previous week’s earthquake-filled excitements. They were quiet for another reason, too. This was holy week, a time when Nicaraguan life in general slows down to allow reflection about this meaningful time in the Christian church. There are celebrations and observances and worship, of course, as time approaches the hope-filled day of Easter. Hope is a major need in Nicaragua, and any occasion to reinforce optimism is cherished. Nicaraguans continuously hope for change, even as the Christians among them contemplate their religious faith at this most important time of the year.

There were similar slowdowns taking place elsewhere around the world, and for many of the same reasons. The approach of Easter provides a context for pausing just a moment and reflecting about the state of the world and our own lives in it. We become engaged in a type of collective contemplation about conflict and resolution, forgiveness and redemption. Even those who consider themselves less than faithful admit to at least moments of such thoughtfulness, intrigued by visions of what “could be” in this life.

It’s a freeing and valuable process, this immersion into calmer waters of contemplation. We can temporarily transport ourselves to more peaceful places and imagine a world more worthy of the sacrifice that Easter represents. There is a certain sense of serenity and healing, and we are left pondering what the world might be like if it could only experience such tranquillity more permanently; the longing for peace lies deep and innately within us.

Regrettably, such ruminations do not last long. The immensity of the difficulties faced by all of humanity are too great, too deeply-seated to encourage long deliberation. Like the very universe we inhabit, the enormity and complexity of our collective lives is more than we can tolerate in anything but small moments. Faced with such proportions, we feel small, impotent, frozen in indecision. Even those of us privileged to work with institutions which possess resources for change, the obstacles to hope are titanic: where to start, when to proceed, how to finish.

I was thinking about these things during Easter week, indulging in dreams, imagining a different worldly model and my place in it, envisioning creative initiatives but always stumbling before the mountain of reality. And quite unexpectedly, I received a stunning affirmation of a truth well-known but under-appreciated.

As the United States approached the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, news coverage took on a decidedly Boston feel. News stories of survivors and heroes and those determined to stage an even better and stronger Boston Marathon filled nearly every newscast during last week. Vignettes about enhanced security salved the fears of even the anxious among the “Boston strong.” But it wasn’t the flexing of security muscles or determined runners or dedicated first responders that caught my attention. Rather, the message came from an eight year-old little boy.

Martin Richard died at last year’s marathon bombing.  Much has been written and recited about him from his family and others who knew him. He was, in most ways, quite typical for an eight year-old. But what captured my attention and reminded me of where I stand in this complexity called human existence, was a photograph of Martin holding a sign that he had fashioned as part of a school initiative. In eight year-old lettering of simplistic truth were his words, “No more hurting people.”


Perhaps you have seen the image, too. It is heartbreaking and ironic and a message seared into our history now as an iconic lesson. It’s simple: stop hurting one another.

The lesson is one-size-fits-all.  It’s the one thing you and I can do in the face of impossibility.  At work, in our homes, our neighborhoods, within our communities and relationships, at every venue we inhabit, Martin’s call is for no more hurting people.  The words set a simple standard against which our decisions and actions can be honestly regarded as to their true intent and content. We know what we intend, and we know if there is hurt within. It’s as true in Nicaragua as in the U.S. and every place where human thought and emotion take place.

The filter is simple; the discipline and the desire to live by it are not. We would be naive to presume that such a strategy is as easy as making up our minds.  Yet those who engage in contemplative reflection are not likely to expect easy resolution to hard matters. To the contrary, to engage in the search is to admit the hard work of any quest for a more sensible human existence. During this past week of reflection and introspection, perhaps the gravity and poignancy of Martin’s sign tells us all we need to know for now….







The word came out of Nicaragua on Thursday evening that an earthquake had rumbled through an area near the capitol city of Managua.  (I heard the news from my colleague there; news from Nicaragua is very rare here in the U.S. since the days of our illegal war via the Contras.)  While there were no immediate reports of injury and damages seem to have been contained, nevertheless the 6.2 magnitude was more than enough to remind Nicaraguans that Mother Nature is indeed the boss when it comes to controlling our fates.

On Friday, a second quake shook the countryside, this one registering 6.6 in size.  On the heels of the first shaking and some 350 aftershocks that followed it, the second tremor underscored the vulnerability that always exists in this region that has been so heavily subject to natural disasters.

There have been previous earthquakes in Nicaragua, of course.  In fact, just in the past month 13 have been registered.  But these larger quakes are the first ones to capture my attention as intensely as they have.  The reasons for this are obvious to me, but they got me to thinking about how most of us tend to respond to news when it occurs so far away.

The reason for my rapt attention to this incident stems from the people I know in Nicaragua.  The incident did not simply happen in a foreign land, but in the country where I work and visit with frequency.  Thus, it happened to friends, colleagues and an array of acquaintances whom I admire and respect.    The earthquakes in Nicaragua are a more intimate event because they have happened to people I know.  When something happens to people I know, it is personal.  I feel it.  I sense that it is something that has happened to me, as well, and I am moved to express my reactions.  I think we are all quick to share the news as well as our own opinions about events that strike close to us, to demonstrate the degree of our involvement and make ourselves more a part of the incident.  (We all do this; it’s even why we so willingly share our stories about “where we were” on a date like 9-11.)

It’s easy for me to feel concern for people in Nicaragua this morning. I hope that Ligia is safe and looking out for others, as is her habit.  I hope Rene and Edgar are able to return to their homes from wherever they have been holding audience.  I think about Thelma and Gladis, Benito and Yaddir, Gloria and the women, Paz and Marisela.  They are all people from whom I have learned and who have given me much.

But thinking of them gives me pause to consider others in Nicaragua whom I do not know, and the gifts they possess, and the worth they represent.  I owe them no fewer good wishes than for the people I have come to meet through whatever serendipity brought us together.  I am connected to these others; I may even meet them on a future trip.  What happens to them is of equal importance as the fates of my friends.  I’m just not as aware of it.

We are inextricably intertwined, every day, in every instance, in every outcome.  We simply don’t acknowledge it.  But as fellow inhabitants on this finite planet, we do share more than we admit.  Our stories are more than just interesting or empathetic bits for the evening news.  They are part of an immense linkage that binds us together.  And as organizational development experts will attest, we are all reliant upon even the weakest link in any chain for no less than our very survival: I can never attain my maximum potential and well-being as long as those around me are unwell.  (Here in the U.S., we have only to look at recent incidents of societal violence to illustrate the veracity of that statement.)  Truly, the well-being of the entire planet is my well-being.

Perhaps fueling such feelings for all Nicaraguans would quickly extinguish whatever flames of passion and care I may feel.   But that does not diminish the truth of our interdependence and what I must invest to achieve my own full humanity….