Letter to Michael March 23, 2011
We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.
“We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” Anonymous
For the past month I have been traveling, mostly in North Carolina doing residencies in schools. Though I love this work, it means that I am missing home and often trying to figure out where to eat in strange lands. If I am very lucky I stay with friends, but more often, I am on my own. While at a terrific residency at Rosewood Elementary School in Wayne County, K&W Cafeteria became my home away from home–a place of vegetables, and no plastic utensils.
Weekends seem to have been time for laundry with fleeting glimpses of friends, a basketball game or two, plus hunting down the Trout Lilies which are blooming along the Eno River.
For the past weeks, I have been listening to the stories of the tsunami in Japan, feeling horrified by the destruction, sorrow for the many deaths incurred, and a frustrated feeling of wanting to do something. Here is the thing–a 9-point earthquake which has shifted our earth’s axis and the tusunami which came after it are out of our control–yours, mine, all of us. We feel powerless in the wake of such devastation. The tectonic plates of our very own earth shifted and this has happened. Where I live here in North Carolina, a 3 hours drive to the Atlantic Ocean with the sun shining and green buds on trees everywhere, I have been feeling both distanced from this disaster and overwhelmed. What can I do here? Nothing? About the tsunami, probably not. But I am reminded again and again that it is the things that I CAN do, however small, that are important. For me, in the whirl of travel and residencies, it has been putting compost on my garden and watching the tree limbs change in color from stark grey to muted shades of brown and green and orange and red, as their leaves begin to unfurl. It has been to dodge single-use plastic, and see every-day that I can do this. In stores, there is usually a glass or fresh option, and these days with all of the new food trucks around, I can even find take-out food in brown paper bags! For you it might be riding your bike somewhere instead of driving, or stopping to show a new young child in your life the flowers of spring as they unfold. Walking forward, and as one of my meditation teachers has said, softening ourselves into the things we must do, keeping active, moving along, in delight and joy when it is easy, and with courage and kindness when it is not.
Below I am posting R. Buckminster Fuller’s letter to Michael, a 10 year old boy who wrote to him in 1970. It is in his book “The Critical Path” but I have also seen it in newsletters and introductions, and when I am teaching, I often read it at the end of a class. From my early 20′s as a young artist, I have kept this letter inside me. As a heartbeat. For me and for you.
- Dear Michael,
- Thank you very much for your recent letter concerning ”thinkers and doers.”
- The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see
- need to be done, and no one else seems to see need to be done. Then
- you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be
- done — that no one else has told you to do or how to do it. This will
- bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has
- acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by
- others on the individual.
- Try making experiments of anything you conceive and are
- intensely interested in. Don’t be disappointed if something doesn’t
- work. That is what you want to know — the truth about everything –
- and then the truth about combinations of things. Some combinations
- have such logic and integrity that they can work coherently despite
- non-working elements embraced by their system.
- Whenever you come to a word with which you are not familiar,
- find it in the dictionary and write a sentence which uses that new
- word. Words are tools — and once you have learned how to use a tool
- you will never forget it. Just looking for the meaning of the word is
- not enough. If your vocabulary is comprehensive, you can
- comprehend both fine and large patterns of experience.
- You have what is most important in life — initiative. Because of
- it, you wrote to me. I am answering to the best of my capability. You
- will find the world responding to your earnest initiative.
- Sincerely yours,
- Buckminster Fuller
After re-reading this letter, I kind of want to end with a big vocabulary word for me to learn and you to look up—-Humm, here is one I just learned….Olefin….Look it up, or not, I certainly had too, and am now ready to do what Mr. Fuller said, or so I hope.
Meanwhile, here’s to mud between your toes and spring beauty in bloom.