Thursday, November 21, 2013

Benched Week 28: sitting at the crossroads

On this cold, November Thursday, I am sitting on a bench in the tiny community of Buffalo Crossroads, which is not much more than just that, an intersection.  I am here to contemplate this building, the first incarnation of the church I attend.

As I sit and watch the empty building, I try to imagine the sounds of a Sunday long ago: the service ending, the doors creak open.  Laughing kids sprint out onto the grass, chased by the remonstrations of parents. Compliments are murmured to the pastor. Buggies creak as families climb aboard.

Now the building lies empty. The church they built and moved to in town is 180 years old.

The new becomes old and requires new again.

That brings my musing around to organizational change.

How does change come to organizations?  After dedicating five years of hard effort to help transform a local one – with little to show for it – I picture the process as like nudging a cruise ship with a rowboat. At times, it feels impossible.  But since I am now a professional eavesdropper on the answers businesses are crafting to that question, I know it can be done.  Invariably, change is brought by a forced hand.  The wiser companies proactively adjust to a coming crisis.  The others react just before the ship hits the rocks.

Transformation always comes with a price.  Often, cherished things must be let go.  Just down the road, this former elementary school is now – ironically – a church.  I’m sure the transition was anything but easy.

And I recognize that not all change is good.  Just over the horizon, a local farmer has built a hideous silo that forever alters the beautiful landscape.  It’s probably a useful addition for him, but is a regrettable one for the rest of us.

It’s a tricky balance.

And so I turn the question inward: what change needs to come in me?

Am I requiring minor adjustments, or, as my boys are suggesting, it’s time to chart a whole, new course?  Thomas Edison once said, “Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress.”  Restlessness and discontent: the twin tugboats inside me.  But where are they nudging me?

As is often the case on these bench-sittings, there is a visual punch line for me.  I look down as I go to leave, and see this

Even in the contented hills of central PA, change comes.

But is it worth the wait?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Benched Week 27: birds of a feather

I have a great friend who is batty about birds.

In many parts of the world, Scott has caught and banded songbirds, hummingbirds and saw whet owls. But as long as I have known him – since college days, when we were roommates – he has been most passionate about birds of prey.

So it’s not surprising that, when I called him to ask if we could have an outing on Friday with my daughter, Grace (who had the day off from school), he suggested Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.  It wasn’t the hands-on experience he had given us before banding hawks at private stations, but the wind was blowing perfectly, promising an impressive aerial show.

And it was blowing.  Unrelentingly cold.  The first bite of winter. When we arrived at the North Lookout, there were already a dozen or so people huddled in parkas.  I found the closest thing I could to a bench: a rock shelf nestled under an overhang.  Grace squeezed in beside me, as we tried to give less for the wind to gnaw on.

The hawks came by sporadically, and none very close.  Grace was the first to spot the bald eagle rising from the forest below us.  Her news rippled across the crowd, now augmented by a class of school kids.  Binoculars pivoted to where she pointed.  People were genuinely excited.


I envy this about Scott. He belongs to a worldwide community of people who share his passion.  Sitting on a rocky ridge for a whole frigid day to watch birds fly by borders on the fanatical for me, though I have gladly done it with him in the past. But I am a dabbler.  There are many who are as hard-core committed as he is.

That’s something that’s a part of my search at this point of my life – some passion in my life that will connect me to a community of like-minded people.  Is it art?  Old movies? Storytelling?  Faith?  An international fellowship of bench-sitters?

I know this: enthusiasm is contagious.  Scott’s love for raptors, freely shared with my kids, has made them appreciate the magnificent birds.  Same goes for me.

Up to a point.  When the snow shower we had watched crawl across the valley finally reached us, I called it quits.  Leaving early meant we missed sighting a few golden eagles, which would have been awe-inspiring to see come soaring through the swirling flakes.

But those dedicated hawk watchers saw them.  It’s only fitting.  There should be a reward for being hard-core.