Monday, June 15, 2009

Judy's Advice

Judy's advice is to make sure you have a sure-footed animal underneath you.

As she said this we were poised on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I'd spotted her a few minutes before, sitting all alone, away from the crowd, on a shelf of yellow rock jutting a few feet beyond the safety rail. It was still early morning and cool in the desert; she wore a light, official-looking jacket with a corporate logo embroidered on its sleeve; her hair was neatly coifed, every short, brown strand in place, her head erect, business-like. She sat perfectly still, looking into all that airy, layered space, her square chin raised, her hands folded level across her knees. I wasn't sure I should disturb her; she seemed to have found a way to be alone and at peace in a Canyon bubbling with tourists. Then she turned her head slightly toward me, and our eyes met.

Judy, it turned out, was a financial advisor from Bangor, Maine, recently arrived in Arizona for a business convention. She'd come several days early so that she could venture deep into the Canyon, and the day before had completed a mule ride to the bottom and back. And that was how she could recommend solid hooves and steady focus to me.

What I wanted to know was what sort of advice she was giving her clients in Maine.

"Buy, buy, buy," she said emphatically, still with her hands folded across her lap. "Don't listen to the media. Keep calm. Don't panic. Keep buying, if you can."

I thought it best to take all of this with a grain of salt. I mean, that embroidered logo glinting on her sleeve, Ameriprise, 10,000 financial consultants nationwide: what else could I expect?

Then Judy said something else:

"The other thing we have to do right now is listen, listen, listen. But not to the talking heads. We have to listen to our best selves. We have to communicate that to each other. Communicate, communicate. Then we're going to be okay, I think."

I asked her if she thought the mood at the convention that week was going to be as positive and hopeful as her own outlook. She assured me it would be.

"Because the glum people don't come, you know. They don't think to get out and look at all of this."

She swept a hand across the bluish-gold horizon, then pointed down to show me the distant thread of trail where she'd taken the mule ride the day before. The name of her mule had been Maud. Maud, frankly, had been terrifying. Maud, it seemed, had a penchant for stopping and eating snips of vegetation . . . snips that happened to be perched on the edge of sheer cliff ledges. Yet at all times Maud was completely, stubbornly confident. After a while, Judy had to force herself simply to hang on tight and stare down into the pit of the desert while her ride went on about the business of living.

"Sometimes," Judy counseled, "you just have to trust that the mule knows more than you do."


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