What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

--Wendell Berry

In 1993, this man changed my life.

Tom Dorman was my high school cross-country coach, my eleventh grade honors English teacher, and the first person to inspire me to live life as a seeker.  He was and continues to be one of the most influential people in my life.

Tom Dorman welcomed me to the high-school cross country team I had no business being on, hating running and all forms of cross-training, and made me part of the first community where I felt truly at home.  He gave me strong, silly, funny, and confident women to look up to and taught me how to curse and revel in playing in the mud.  He took me camping and trail running and taught me how to read topo maps and star charts.  He taught me how to be a leader and a mentor, and to never stop questioning.

In 1995, I left the prestigious independent study classes I'd worked my entire academic career to get into so I could be his student.  It was the first time I followed my heart instead of my mind, and it may have been the best decision I'd ever made to date.  Tom Dorman introduced me to Edward Abbey and Wallace Stevens, to Thomas Lux and the superiority of short stories.  He introduced me to The New Yorker, to Powell's Books, to the importance of keeping a journal, and to the idea that I could find beauty anywhere and everywhere.

His constant love and support allowed me to believe, for the first time, that maybe--just maybe--there was something special about me, too.  That perhaps even I, this intense, awkward, serious, and naïve first-born daughter of immigrants, might be able to break out of the endless, ambitious capitalistic cycle of moremoremore I already felt myself captive to at age fifteen and instead live a creative, inspired life.

One of the most enduring, and powerful, lessons Tom (can you ever grow up enough to call your high school English teacher by his first name?) taught me was the difference between quality and Quality.  Though I don't remember, any longer, how he articulated it, I can explain what it means to me today.  It means not only doing my very best work all of the time, but also infusing it thoroughly with love and meaning.  It means choosing to surround myself with GOOD PEOPLE who are generous, compassionate, intelligent, creative and funny--and if they happen to be rich or famous or powerful, then that's good, too.  Not the other way around.

This lesson served me well in college, at Chez Panisse--a veritable temple of Quality--and at every other point in my career as I've done my best to navigate the topsy-turvy food-for-pleasure-meets-food-justice world in which I live.  For the past two decades, I've been practicing discernment, seeking Quality in everything I do and everyone I meet, and I can see so clearly how it's paid off.  Lately, I feel like it's actually been taking the form of contraction, of a more intimate private life that fuels my public endeavors.  Less time on the internet, less social networks, less of a desire to go to every social event to which I'm invited, less time eating out in restaurants.  More time with friends, cooking dinner at home.  More time reading, and writing, and watching movies.  More time outside, more time meditating, more time in the water.  

And somehow, something is happening now where I'm crossing paths with so many excellent, interesting people on a daily basis.  Yesterday, I finally met Leah Rosenberg after a long, drawn-out, mutual obsession with one another, and I can tell you right now that we are the sweet and salty twins.  Total soul sistas.  How can it be that someone I've never met can so totally be on the same page?  And how can I be so sure so immediately?  I don't know.  I just am.  And you know, I totally trust it.  She's Quality, with a capital Q.

Thanks for that, and so much more, Coach.  I love you.  Always will.