Gold Nugget People

My close friend Peter has a theory about what he calls “gold nugget people.”  These are people of wisdom, people who know things—important things—who live anonymously and invisibly in their communities, known only to those who pay attention and need to know.  They are, Peter says, like gold nuggets you might find glistening in the bottom of a rushing stream—easy to miss unless you know what to look for and where to look. 

Human communities have always had gold nugget people.  Sometimes they have a role as “medicine men,” shamans, or elders; sometimes they just live their lives, watching how others live theirs and being ready to help if asked.  Gold nugget people  do not seek or crave fame; that is one of their identifying characteristics.  This is actually unusual now.  It seems that everyone, young and old, is looking for their “15 minutes of fame”—perhaps on social media, perhaps in the newspaper (though those are growing obsolete)—perhaps among their professional peers.  It is rare to find someone who could be famous—indeed is worthy of being famous—but who shuns and even runs away from the spotlight.  In fact, it seems that to be a successful “gold nugget” person—someone who knows important things but needs to be asked or sought out—you need to abjure and avoid being well-known.

I come from a Buddhist tradition that originated in China.  In ancient times in China, a talented Buddhist teacher might, when younger, build a following, lead a monastery, or shine in other ways.  But it was traditional that such a person, when older, would leave all that behind and “disappear” into the forest or in some small village where they would live anonymously, perhaps carving statues or making temple bells.  Partly that was a way to make room for the next generation of leaders.  But partly it was a way to, in Voltaire’s phrase, “cultivate your garden.”  Wisdom grows when it is unhindered by the demands of notoriety or fame.

I’m convinced that even in today’s frenetic and sometimes panicked world, gold nugget people still exist.  I have met a few myself, but in the spirit of the gold nugget ethos, I will not talk about or describe them.  They are there, they do what they can, and most importantly they observe the craziness around them the way a grandparent affectionately watches the antics of their adolescent grandchildren.  In an emergency they might step in.  Even if they are never consulted—and teenagers do not readily consult their elders—they are present.  I have read that teenagers like to have their parents around, but they don’t necessarily want them to say anything.  That may be true for the whole of society right now.  We all know that things are a mess.  We can imagine there are those wise ones who can help us deal with the mess, but for the most part we don’t want to ask them.  Perhaps we are too proud, perhaps we are too addicted to the crazy world we have created, perhaps we are just too overwhelmed.

The gold nugget people understand.  That is the way it is, and to some extent the way it has always been.  We may be headed for a great fall, like Humpty Dumpty, and also like him there may be no way to put us back together once we have fallen and broken to pieces.  That may be the one time that the gold nugget people will come out from hiding and patiently pick up the pieces.  Perhaps that is just a fantasy or wishful thinking, but I don’t think so.  There is always more going on in a situation than we can see or know.  

Sometimes, looking around at how things are, I feel a twinge of despair.  But then I remember that the gold nugget people are here.They will help if needed, but we have to really want them to help.  We have to call out to them, as a soldier will call out to his mother on the verge of dying.  Will they come? 

We won’t know until the crisis we are in becomes unbearable.  I plan to stay engaged for the duration.  How about you? For after all, we are all in this together.  There is only this one planet we can call home, the green-blue orb that was never seen in full until the first astronauts returned from the moon with photographs.  The whole earth is, in a sense, the greatest and largest gold nugget of all.  Damage it grievously though we may, it continues to shine.  However long it may take, the earth will abide.

Anyway, that is the hope.

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