I think I may have found the source of “IT”. It is a passion, a desire to elevate whatever you do to art form. A few weekends ago I got to see it first-hand; in the form of a fourth-generation Iranian American rug importer, a sixty-year old rock musician, and a business owner/mother of three.
A few years ago, I was paid one of the highest compliments I ever experienced from a fellow fire service professional. I was first beginning to blog and this professional said that he wanted to get to know me better because ANOTHER fire service professional who had read my posts told him that I was “someone who gets IT”. I was pleased to hear this, but it piqued my curiosity as to what was truly “IT”.
So what is “IT” with a capital I-T? In my opinion, IT is the headwaters, the origin, the core. The first chapter of the Tao Te Ching describes IT as being the “unnamable source”:
The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin of all particular things.
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you only see the ramifications.
Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.
I was honored to visit with an importer of fine rugs, rugs that transcend flooring; rugs that are truly art form. As we sat together on stacks of his family’s recent creations, I interviewed him about the origins of 200-plus year old rugs that surrounded us, accompanied by pictures of great-grandfathers and grandfathers gone by. The rugs on his walls said more about the craftsmanship and artistry of a century of skilled designers than the many awards, in fact, the most in the industry, gracing his foyer.
I happened to attend a concert by a musician who, even after his 60thbirthday, refuses to mail it in. I have seen thirteen of his performances over 10 years and I have never seen him take a five minute break while playing over three hour sets and jumping, sliding, running, cheering, etc. His work ethic, he has said, can be directly attributed to his love for what he does and the examples of his working class parents. He knew from early on he wanted to be a rock musician. In fact, in his autobiography by Dave Marsh, he is credited with knowing as early as high school what exactly it was he wanted to do, how he committed his efforts to learning his craft. His mother, knowing how much he wanted this, bought him a guitar when he was sixteen, which was a major sacrifice on her part. Talk about return on investment.
A woman who, undeterred by others with less vision, put together a company to reflect her exacting eye for detail and has been considered a leader not only in her industry, but in her community as well. Despite the lack of effort put in by others around her, she would stay at work until eight or nine in the evening trying to keep the company afloat. She did this not out of necessity (other than keeping her job, as she had no financial stake in the company), but out of loyalty and a desire to help her colleagues remain employed. When it was just painfully obvious that no matter what her effort, the owner would not regard her with the respect he gave to yes-men and poor performers, she left with no protection and established her own enterprise. She is now employing others and giving to others through her efforts and her company is considered to be a standard of excellence.
Although I know only the stage persona of the musician and the rug importer has been an acquaintance for years, I know the woman as my wife, Kathleen. In watching and somewhat studying each, I find that there are some constants in their success; those of an incredible work ethic, a devotion to what they do as art form, and a dedication to doing what is good and right in contrast to those who only do for themselves. They also have high standards for themselves and hold themselves and the others around them to that ideal, and in doing so, elevate everyone close to them.
People become good at what they do as a result of passion. They choose to learn all about that part of their lives and focus on learning about what is considered good and right in their profession and they know to avoid the things that are not. They don’t associate with the things that are considered amateurish or petty, but live in the now and they note what is new and innovative, and they reject that which is not, or they weave it into something revolutionary.
When you chose this thing, firefighting, as a calling, be it career or volunteer, did it seem to be something to pass the time or was it something to invest in – and by investing, mean your time, your patience, and your passion? Do you find yourself now in the ranks of the unconsciously competent, doing the job so well that you are on a whole other playing field than others? If so, maybe you have finally reached the unknowable, but if you are like me, you probably find yourself a lifetime student of the game.
“IT” is the unknowable, the unreachable, but it is the usefulness of the darkness. It wants to be filled and even like in a cave, where you shine in a light, that light only illuminates what you happen to be looking at. Yet there is the whole rest of the cave, the outer reaches unable to be covered by the light, and even with more light, there will continue to be the areas covered in shadow. To completely illuminate the cave and to see everything is going to require an entirely amazing amount of light that we probably can’t even imagine, and even then, there will be dark places.
When you get “IT”, you understand that. You know that there will always be more to learn and no matter what amount of light you bring in, there will still be more to learn and different sources to learn it from. There is a certain amount of humility in someone who understands this, because they know that even in the least likely places, they might find more to comprehend. Continue to remain open to all and you might begin to see anew.