Monday, December 31, 2018

Of Great Hunters and the Game

Eighteen years ago today, I was sitting at a much larger computer terminal on New Year’s Eve frantically corresponding with a Managing Director at Banc of America Securities in Palo Alto, California.  Three hours behind me, it mattered little to him that the first New Years of the new millennium would be spent with me negotiating a credit agreement to provide capital to my company to cover the bank’s own reneging on its capital and business commitment weeks earlier.  After all, my midnight would pass and he’d still have three hours before the champagne corks would be launched.  And on that night, I made a promise.  For as long as I ran M·CAM, my last act on the last day of each year would be to write an homage of gratitude to those who, in the preceding year, had made my year wonderful.  I think of this the Incarnation of Gratitude Litany.

As if to test my resolve, my morning this morning included an invitation to be lured back to the table of re-trading against myself and my values.  The difference between now and 18 years ago is a simple one.  It came in my understanding of a moral riddle given to me in the Golden Pagoda (Kinkaku-ji) in Kyoto long ago. 

Impassioned to convey sage wisdom into my life, an aged monk grabbed onto my coat and motioned for me to sit beside him.

“Turn the bamboo for your omikuji,” he said handing me a large bamboo section with a small hole drilled in one side.

I rolled the bamboo and, after a few seconds, turned it to one side allowing a strand of wood to slip out of the hole.  On the strip was a series of kanji characters.  Handing it to the monk, I watched as he took it and melted into an expression of sheer amazement.

“Ah, this omikuji hasn’t been drawn before.  It is very special,” he said as he shuffled over to a wall of tiny cubby holes each containing a miniature scroll.  “We’ve heard about this scroll but I’ve never seen it.  You must listen very carefully as what I have to tell you is very important.”

I sat as he relayed the following story.

A great hunter always provided food for his village.  When he would enter the forest, he would find deer, rabbits or birds, shoot them with his arrows or catch them in his snares and bring them back to the village so that all were provisioned.   In the forest, there was a line.  Before that line, hunting big game was appropriate as it could be carried back to the village without any concern of exhaustion.  Beyond the line, the hunter should only pursue small game as dragging a deer back would require too much effort and, as such, neither he nor the village would benefit.  He and his village thrived.  Then one day, he went into the forest to hunt.  Deep in the forest, he had seen nothing.  No tracks in the snow; no hide, hair, or feather.  And then, standing on the line of demarcation he saw them: a deer and a rabbit.

“You know what to do,” the monk exclaimed.  “You’re the great hunter.”

“What’s the punchline?” I inquired.  “How does this end?”

“Right,” he replied, “You know!”

2018 taught me that I misunderstood hunting as a pursuit.  The reason for my struggle with the omikuji was up until this year, I thought that the hunter had the next move.  His wit, his cunning, his aim, his strength.  But what I learned in 2018 was that the deer and the rabbit were not prey.  They were not provision.  They were seduction into the reflexive illusion of “choice”.  Was the hunter going to be trapped into expending every last bit of energy to haul the deer back?  Was the hunter going to start collecting rabbits and birds for their portability?  Was the hunter going to be wise enough to invite either the deer or the rabbit (and any other woodland creature, for that matter) to follow him back to the village?  Was the hunter wise enough to turn away from the hunt and teach the village to become self-sufficient?  Was the hunter thoughtful enough to realize that he wasn’t provisioning but rather enabling dependency?

So, in keeping with my year end tradition, I honor and celebrate my dear friends Bob Kendall and Amanda Gore who stood with me once more as steadfast, intrepid allies in my mission.  I honor Cody Lloyd for giving me a father’s joy on January 15 of this year when he sent me a letter I will cherish for the rest of my life in which he informed me of his abiding love and passion for my daughter Katie.  I honor my son Zachary for his embrace of living that involved joining the team at M·CAM.  I honor Nicolas Wales for his relentless pace climbing actual and metaphoric hills and inspiring the same in me.  I honor Dex Wheeler, Pam Cole and Dylan Korelich who struggled mightily across the year to help the entire team at M·CAM thrive and achieve unimaginable successes.  I honor community that has formed around the Breathing Enterprise’s Gatherings and the persistent value of family that they have manifest in my life.  I honor my beautiful wife Kim for her persistent, generative passion.  But in this end of 2018, I will, for the first time honor one more person.  Someone who has never featured in any of my gratitude posts over nearly 20 years.  As the sun sets on 2018, I honor my resolute passion to be the very best of humanity!  I honor my unflagging generosity and loyalty.  In short, I honor me.  I’m grateful to finally sit, puzzle solved, and watch the deer and the rabbit make THEIR next move.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

And Then?

I wrote the following 33 years ago...fitting for a day of collapsing confidence in the markets...

The sun rose.  Rising ever so slowly yet rising nonetheless.  As it made its ascent into the vast blue expanse overhead, shadows of dawn were transformed into fully illuminated objects of the day.  All was very quiet, as silent as undersea chasms into which the light of dawn never penetrates.  Nothing moved. All was perfectly tranquil.

Projecting from the rubble below, a network of iron beams - twisted, mangled, and rusted, reached upward as a tree stretches its gnarled limbs from a fissure in the bedrock.  Fragments of glass flashed in the fresh new light.  On the ground, a mixture of steel, glass, plaster, concrete, and asphalt combined to form a landscape never observed before.

The sun rose higher.  The higher it climbed, the warmer the air became.  Still nothing moved.

A bridge support stood in the desolation, land that once bustled with activity.  The bridge, both a functional superstructure and a monument to a concept that those who created the structure  never totally understood, was annihilated, reduced to mere powder.

The sun continued its ascent.

Towering above the bleakness stood geometrically symmetric metal skeletons; wires draped from them like wild grapevines dangling from bare trees in the dead of winter.  Once laden with surges of power, giving vibrancy to their designers, now they hung - powerless - in this realm of desolation.

The sun reached its zenith, thoroughly permeating the silent surroundings.

Partially submerged, yet still conspicuously there, was an enormous metal formation in the shape of a pointed ellipse.  Lying on the floor of an inlet, this colossus was sheltered from all the dangers of the open sea. Chains bound it to proportionately minute supports on land - the chains still insuring against any unwanted movement.  Atop this immense construction, two long narrow tubes pointed menacingly at the sky - daring anything to intrude into this silent, seemingly forbidden territory.  

The sun began its descent.

A spire rose upward, splitting the air.  Upon the pinnacle stood a simple, strikingly prominent figure - an upright bar intersected by a horizontal bar - a cross.  This figure cast an endless shadow across the desolation.  Once this had been a solid firm construction - now fleeting.

The sun sank lower in the sky.

A causeway was clearly delineated on the ground.  This, combined with many other such causeways, converged at one point.  At this point stood a stone.  Along the road stood forsaken buildings once bustling with international commerce; houses empty shells, silent as the stones from and trees from which they were constructed; vehicles, once transporting their owners from one place to another in a seemingly endless cycle.

The sun set casting an orange red hue on the giant stone at the roads' convergence. Upon this stone, a simple inscription read:

"To Whom It May Concern, We Were"