I was haunted for years by the thought that it might happen: a startling deathbed revelation that a core belief on which I had built my life was faulty. I would see in an instant how hundreds or thousands of micro and macro decisions had issued from a false premise. Scientists encounter this phenomenon frequently in research,  and have to go back philosophically and methodologically to the fork in the road and choose a different direction. But I would have no opportunity to do that, and would die immersed in regret amplified by realizing my unlived lives too late.

And then it happened. I recognized that I had told myself an untrue story for years. I had indeed acted upon it in ways I regretted. The saving grace was that this happened not on my deathbed, but in my mid-forties.


The greatest misunderstanding that people have about the USA until they live here is that it’s a country. I’ve been here for ten years, and the most surprising shift in my perception has been that the place might be better seen as really fifty nations, each with their own culture and laws, connected with their neighbors only as tightly as they want to be. This fact carries tension, of course, if you value coherence; but the liberating consequence is that if the first step to healing a place is knowing it, it may be much easier to know a state than the nation. The handful of key cities and rural communities that make up a state are conceivably knowable by a handful of people who care enough to steward the earth, nurture the people, and imagine “the next stage of good.” That phrase, coined by Bob Woodward to refer to the role of US American Presidents, is spacious and inviting. It’s a way to live. Looking out my window, seeing trees, but imagining the neighborhood and the city behind them, and the region behind those is a beginning of knowing. That knowing is vital to rootedness, and rootedness is the beginning of hospitality, and hospitality will save the world...

In my homeland of northern Ireland, lament for the past is real, but we are moving beyond the cruelty and toward owning our story, in all its painful and joyful variety. We know what it was like to live in a society governed by fear and hatred. We’re not going back.

Which brings me to the present moment, as it pertains to the fifty state experiment that may or may not actually be a nation. I’d like to offer some gentle thoughts on the state of the union, emerging from my experience of growing up in a place where we thought we could dominate each other, and are only recently discovering that our needs are shared. I’m going to sketch seven principles and practices for thriving in the current moment. Let’s begin with the one closest to each of us.