Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Micro, Macro and Penne Pasta
The usually mindless twenty–five minute commute to the office has required a little more attention the past few mornings. Crews of men in hard hats and florescent-trimmed vests have been supervising the cutting down of some rather large pine trees along the apron of 301 South and a little farther down another group has been digging troughs for, I assume, the long line of pale aqua pipe pieces that have been littering the ditch like massive tubes of penne. I suspect all of this is in preparation for the extension of utilities to property that borders the interstate.
It’s probably about nine miles from the city limits of Statesboro to the interstate. Nine miles is a long way to send water or electricity or the digital signals that enable us to buy merchandise with the swipe of a plastic card. So now I’m thinking about how far we are willing to go for something we want, how far I’m willing to go for something I want. How far is too far.
It is suggested that we reach for the stars and that a man’s – or a woman’s – reach should exceed his grasp. The motto for the Olympic Games is “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger," a declaration that the athlete and, therefore, mankind for whom the athlete is the idealized symbol, must be incessantly stretching and straining the limits of what is possible, never content with what is.
At the same time, though, we are admonished to live simply and modestly. There is a pair of ruby slippers in the Smithsonian, our national repository of culture, that reminds us that the means to obtaining our hearts’ desires lie, not in some far away land, but within ourselves and that there is no place like home.
Can the dichotomy of the two positions be reconciled? Can both be true?
I confess to not remembering much from the two semesters of economics I took in college. Adam Smith. Opportunity cost. Guns and butter. What I do remember clearly, probably because it had immediate applicability to my life in answering the question of whether I should keep studying or get some sleep, is the concept of the point of diminishing return, the idea that at some specific moment, location, or cost the benefit of continuing in the same direction will be reduced. The problem back then, with the study or sleep conundrum, and now is always determining where, exactly, is that point?
I suspect that the men in the suits who hired the men in the hard hats have reams of data, stacks of printouts with colorful pie charts and lots of decimal points, confirming that their point is somewhere beyond nine miles, that the cost of installing all that giant pasta under the edge of a four-lane highway will be less than the eventual benefit of having jobs and a tax base that far from town.
I’m not that lucky. I don’t have models and projections and pie charts available each time I’m trying to decide whether nine miles is the point at which I stop reaching and start grasping. There is no way to label the pros and cons of the various choices as constants, coefficients, and variables and then solve for x.
Most of the big decisions of my life have already been made. Some of them turned out to be excellent choices, some not so good. What they all have in common is this: Each one involved both reaching and grasping, not one or the other. Using my eyes to look as far ahead as I possibly could and using my heart to hold on to everything I knew to be good and true. Having vision and trusting experience. Not exactly a reconciliation of the dichotomy. Maybe something more like detente – an acceptance of difference and an easing of tensions followed by an acknowledgment of the equal possibility of both contentment and regret.
Perhaps that is the best one can hope for, along with the worst that one should expect, which is the reality that, continuing to reach or pausing to grasp, one can never ever ever be absolutely sure.