The poet Robinson Jeffers worried that people increasingly failed to engage with the world or to appreciate nature, that we had become blind to the “astonishing beauty of things” around us. When I read Jeffers or Wendell Berry, or watch a baseball game or observe my wife and daughters tease each other or gossip or laugh together, I think about the importance of being present and aware in all phases of life.
In a practical sense, this idea speaks to the benefits of knowing what matters more and what matters less when making decisions about what to do, where to look and how to enjoy the day.
Tools and Toilet Paper
Baseball helped organize my life. Growing up, when my family moved to a new town, my parents would sign us up for local baseball, basketball or soccer leagues to keep us active and help us meet other kids. Sports taught me discipline, the power of practice and importance of teams. In college at MIT, I played baseball with a group of guys that were especially attuned to and interested in what it took to be successful on the diamond.
Professional baseball scouts often grade and profile players based on five “tools” central to success: the abilities to hit for average, hit for power, run (speed), throw (arm strength) and field. The elusive “five-tool players” are the superstars, the household names of each era such as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Mike Trout.
That means the application of expertise also requires knowing where to look. As a forest industry researcher, I sometimes support due diligence, when one firm looks to buy another, in whole or part. When touring manufacturing facilities in the past, I always looked in the bathrooms to see if they stocked toilet paper, if the hot water worked, if the floor was clean. Cleanliness in the bathroom, and in the shop, indicated that management cared about its employees and increased the likelihood that the facility was well run.
Understanding what matters also involves awareness of context. As Larry Schiamberg wrote in the preface of his textbook Human Development, thinking about our situations and relationships “requires attention to the progressive interaction and mutual adaptation of human beings…throughout the life span.” Consider the example of a young couple working to develop its “own family structure” over time. Key stresses include sex, finances, and parental interference.
In the end, them’s the basics: your bed, your bank account and your boundaries. And when something unplanned, unwanted or unexpected affects them, it destroys trust and erodes relationships.
Each field and phase of life has its pain points and astonishing realizations. Elevating awareness and appreciation of the moment enhances gratitude, encourages simpler approaches, and diminishes the need to be at the center of things. In fact, knowing what matters, where to look and what to ignore puts our attentions towards relationships and taking joy in how things work.
 Jeffers sometimes gets quoted in articles related to my research in forestry; he was active in the environmental movement in the 1940s and 50s.
 Retired Michigan State University professor and my father-in-law. Yo, Pops, what’s up? 🙂