Out of all the agreements, this is one I strive to keep. It’s also the hardest. I woke up from a dream in the middle of the night. I dreamed about Ely, Minnesota, the deep forests of the North Woods, where most everything is impeccable with its word. The black bears, Lily and Hope, are busy being bears. They hibernate in Winter, fluctuating between restless activity and long naps. They may have cubs in January. It’s not something that is up for debate. They emerge in the Spring and seek a mate, roam the forests of red and white pines, gangly cedars, and rough-hewn milkweed, and pluck fruit off of agile chokecherry trees which they bend across the path and navigate with their tongues.
In my dream, I was walking through the woods, similar to the nature walk back behind the Bear Center on Saturday night. It was humid and wet, the ground soft underfoot. A long line of people skirted the trail through tufts of mosquitoes; they quietly listened. What I’ve learned about impeccability is that it is different for each person. If you are a bear researcher, you report back to the public from the angle from which you study the bears. Each person’s approach is different. One is not less impeccable than the next. They may start out with different beliefs, seek to prove or disprove them over years spent in the woods, watching and recording black bears.
I was thinking about how that applies to every day life. We tend to hang around people who are most like us. It takes great effort to understand those we might disagree with. To be willing to have our opinion changed, based on fact, based on what is right — that’s a form of impeccability. To deep listen. Again, impeccable. It takes work to listen to what people have to say without already forming what your response will be when they are done speaking. There are many different versions of right and wrong. Not black and white. Gray. If you get to know the facts about any one subject, person, place or thing, there is a lot of gray.
I learned at the North American Bear Center that what might have been believed true of bears 20 years ago, may not be true now. With more research, comes a deeper form of truth and understanding. With age comes wisdom. The same is true in my own life. I recently ran across an old journal from the time period when I was turning from 21 to 22. I had recently moved to Montana from Pennsylvania and my life was topsy-turvy. Over the course of a year, I ended one relationship, began another with a woman who had a toddler. That relationship would end in three years. The toddler is full-grown; I’m only a blip in his life.
What I believed when I was 20 is not what I believe now. The way I was impeccable with my word is not the way I try to be impeccable today. I work harder now to not make commitments I know I can’t keep. I also fail. But I feel more willing to accept the failures. By fessing up. Apologizing. Asking for forgiveness. There can’t be too much forgiveness in the world. There can’t be too much love.
I’ve learned the hard way that impeccability is something that is earned over time. It doesn’t show up on your doorstep and beg to be let in. It is proud, strong, forgiving but demanding. The white pines are impeccable. They catalogue the seasons and provide protection and nurturing for black bears in the North Woods of Minnesota. The lumber barons who nearly wiped white pines off the face of the planet? I wouldn’t call them impeccable in their commitment to the sustainability of our world. But things are more complicated than that.
Maybe they were impeccable with their word to those they did business with, to the communities they helped build and make thrive. I don’t know. I don’t share their values. But I shy away from condemnation. I try to understand their shortsightedness. Sometimes it’s just greed. Pure and simple greed that drives people to break their word. Fortunately, I still believe that it’s not the greedy who shall inherit the Earth. But I’m not so sure it will be the humans either.
-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC: THE FOUR AGREEMENTS