TEN YEARS AGO, close to noon, our grad school adviser invites me to join his colleagues for lunch, they were my professors. We ate at a Chinese restaurant near campus – a Tai, Armenian, Latino, and Anglo – at a table for four.

Chi knows the waitress, so they lean in to whisper in their mother tongue. A plain tea kettle soon arrives as placement’s are re-arranged family style, “we’ll share entrees from serving dishes at the center” – hmm. The day’s fading busyness gradually redirects attention from self to the room’s intentional movement — centerpiece moves out, as soup, soy, and Szechuan appear, scribing magnetic arcs about each setting — inviting us to join life’s choreography.

Our order lifts toward the kitchen while Chi pours tea and the others start to scuffle, “our grandmother always told us your people were the enemy.” 

The coy one smiles, but Chi defuses any follow-on jabs with a friendly word of unquestionable moderation, “… we have to set a good example for our guest too.” Chi’d worked with hoardes of classroom pupils by this point, city government, and a federal advisory committee where he honed a knack for dis-tempering even more fervent conflict on major public works. Humor was his go to strategy, favoring facilitated consensus styled after the architectural charrette paired with public comment — plus he practiced Tai Chi in his personal time, the martial art of appropriate resistance. Delightful as those experiential lessons were, I couldn’t help wondering, “these guys have already worked together 25 years, so how many times has this conversation already begun and repeated exactly like this over lifetimes even?” Following reboot the conversation thankfully progressed to current events, economics, research, history, and life’s other curiosities as our ideas mixed, morphed, and clarified.

  • We shared those tables with other colleagues across the years, though it was always special when Chi organized since he helped found that department
  • We didn’t completely ignore the rigors of disharmony either – in class we’d ruminate over more contentious topics: air, water, energy, and risk

Most from that era have taken to new heights by now. We didn’t leave that first meeting without hearing Chi’s reminder though, “next week is our field trip to the Twin Rivers Water Recycling Center,” which rests at the confluence of the Lion and Medina Rivers – like the prow of a great ship.

“they no longer squandered their father’s property” – Luke 16:9

Acoustic: Life on the Nickel
Artist: Foster the People, Torches (2011)

“Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life”
– John Wooden


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