I’ve committed to exploring and living in this threshold between stories, this liminal time of both/and, not because I believe it’s Right and anyone who doesn’t get it or come along with me, or who cannot relate to this perspective, is Wrong. Or that this is The Answer, or The Solution to all our problems. I just love the people I’m meeting, who challenge and inspire me. I enjoy being with them. They are good company.
About fifteen years ago, my partner and I had a thriving green architecture firm. Hip deep in LEED consulting, small design projects, sustainability initiatives, lecturing and teaching, we were helping to put Baltimore on the map of community sustainability and eco-mindedness. I had always been a very focused architect, completely dedicated to my profession and craft. So much so, looking back, that I was oblivious to the real reasons we do this work. I thought it was to be the best, to make beautiful (if not perfect), technically excellent buildings. To dive in deep, control all the variables and requirements, and create an innovative project that not only solved all of the client’s problems, but also a few more we threw in just to keep it interesting.
Not that those things aren’t important, but one day, in our cool little office up in the mezzanine of an old converted church, under the huge stained glass window, it hit me. We are in business for the relationships. It’s the people, not the projects, that matter most: clients, mentors, colleagues, engineers, consultants, even code officials (yes, even them). Recently, this truth found me again during one of our Restorying retreats, as I was keeping time while the participants told stories to each other in groups of three. I may have come to this work out of great pain and confusion, but I’ve stayed out of curiosity, wonder, and awe. My willingness to keep traveling this uncharted territory comes directly from the company I have found along the way.
When we were deep into green architecture and sustainability, we met many smart, dedicated, caring people who taught us so much. In sharing with them, I grew tremendously, and in turn passed on what I was learning with others. And maybe that’s all our work is ever about, no matter the form it takes. I enjoyed these new colleagues; they were good company.
Last year, I saw the film, “Particle Fever,” about the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, a multi-year, gazillion dollar project involving thousands of scientists from dozens of countries around the world—some of which are at war with one another—to figure out the weight of the “Higgs Boson particle.” Quantum physics at its most ambitious, training all that combined brainpower on a question that they expect will reveal nature’s most guarded secrets. It’s a gripping film that manages to give you all the salient information in an appealing and interesting way, even when it’s far over your head. The scientists face setbacks and failures, small gains and big victories, on their way to pinning down the weight of the particle. The hoped-for weight would prove all their theories to be right, while the other end of the predicted scale would send everyone back to the drawing board, discrediting the last several decades of theoretical physics. Instead, the number was right in the middle—not definitively one or the other. And so they keep at it.
Maybe, I thought, the whole thing is kind of a cosmic joke played on all these brilliant scientists by the very Universe they are trying to unmask, name and claim. It could be that the point of the project is as simple as bringing all those people together. It’s not actually about finding answers, and so the answers remain elusive. It’s about giving voice to questions and curiosities, then collaborating with people who have a wide variety of skills and perspectives, just for the fun of it. Because they are good company.
As committed as I am to my evolving role as a story-cultivator, -teller, -listener, and -crafter, writing and offering Restorying retreats, I almost don’t care if I’m on the right track with this. Or if we get anywhere, or if it makes any difference, if it staves off climate change or eliminates factory farming, or prevents even one WalMart from being built. As lovely as it is to come home to the living earth, and experience that connection, I know there is no straight cause-and-effect at work here.
Keeping good company requires generosity, giving of oneself without expectation of return. It’s also about reciprocity, that shared spark of connection that comes from discovering a common inspiration, wherever it may lead. And I’m learning that good company extends to more than just human beings. The Others are quite possibly enlisting us in this project of cultivating new stories, just as the Universe put desire in the hearts of all those physicists to peek into nature’s own secret heart. The Others sing their songs, call to us, and even dream us. As more of us start to sense and feel and listen, we discover the great joy of our connection and belonging to the whole animate world. And, my goodness, is it ever good company.