Issue No. 350 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting features one of my favorite columnists. Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal columns touch your head, your heart, and your funny bone (though her word would be wittier). Example: She says we get our news at what we still call the water cooler “and mean as the line at Starbucks.” And this reminder: click here to check out my 20 management buckets (core competencies).
Photo by Jason Pearson on 9/11 in NYC
Poignant Peggy Noonan
Just 350 issues ago, on Aug. 28, 2006, I launched this crazy idea of a book review and a bucket commentary in each issue of Your Weekly Staff Meeting. Thanks for being a reader.
Thus, weighted with the responsibility (one of my top strengths) to make this a truly commemorative issue—I took 10 months to read a truly remarkable book. (I know. I say that about most of these books.)
With dark roast coffee fumes satisfying my Saturday mornings, I frequently begin the day with Peggy Noonan’s weekly column in The Wall Street Journal. She rarely disappoints. While she was an acclaimed speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, she’s writes with an old-style reporter’s honesty and balance about all things that matter in our nation and on our globe—including what matters now about September 11.
It’s been 15 years, this morning, since we experienced those sad, jarring images of 9/11. (More on that in a minute.) Not surprisingly, Peggy Noonan’s thoughts on 9/11 are poignantly integrated into this amazing collection of the 82 columns and reports she selected for this book. (She started with three piles: the yes pile, the no pile, and the maybe pile. She re-read every column she’d written. Whew.)
Over these past 10 months, The Time of Our Lives has become the plumb line for my political worldviews. Noonan writes with integrity, care, richness, and wisdom. Her wordcraft—exquisite! Two examples from the 44-page introduction (don’t skip this—it’s memorable):
“I think columnists—probably all writers but certainly columnists—are like baseball players in that they have good seasons and bad. They have hot streaks where they can’t not hit the ball. They have cold streaks: whiff, whiff, whiff. But baseball players know they’re in a streak when it’s happening, because of the stats. Writers only know in retrospect.”
“There are writers who believe their impenetrability and lack of liveliness is proof of their gravity. ‘I’m boring because I’m serious.’ No, you’re boring because you’re boring. If you were serious you’d be interesting.”
Noonan’s arresting choice of words require pen-in-hand underlining:
Commenting on the “over the top” ending of a president’s Inauguration Day speech: “It is the kind of sentence that makes you wonder if this White House did not, in the preparation period, have a case of what I have called in the past ‘mission inebriation.’” Then she adds, “The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not.”
In the five-column section on “People I Miss” (Tim Russert, Joan Rivers, and others), she contrasts Margaret Thatcher’s farewell to a U.S. version: “No funeral of an American leader would ever be like that: The dead American would be the star, with God in the position of yet another mourner who’d miss his leadership.”
If I were a pastor, next Sunday I’d read her April 2011 column, “What the World Sees in America.” That’s it. Then this congregational assignment: Listen. Discuss with three people sitting near you. Pray. Then exit and do something today. Noonan’s poignant point: “Remember during the riots of the 1960s when they said, ‘the whole world is watching?’ Well, now the whole world really is.” She adds, “The whole world [visitors to the U.S. and those on the web overseas] is in the Hilton, channel-surfing. The whole world is on the train, in the airport, judging what it sees and likely, in some serious ways, finding us wanting.”
The chapters—neatly packed into 15 sections—are dressed in irresistible titles with potent phrasing you’ll borrow:
• The Nightmare and the Dreams: How has September 11 affected our unconscious? She said that Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner “had a lovely kind of sweet intelligence.”
• Snow Day. “It wasn’t obnoxious, just comic, a pure moment of the inevitable solipsism of a modern mayor in the media age.” That was Noonan’s line about watching NYC’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg use the occasion of his first big snowstorm as his “first big test.” Noonan: “We thought this was about the storm—we forgot it’s about you!” (“Solipsism” will now be making regular appearances in coming issues.)
• Miracle on Fulton Street (Dec. 14, 2001). Noonan writes 93 days after 9/11: “My friends, this is the kind of column I used to do now and then before the world changed.” Oh, my. You will read this chapter to your loved ones. Being a 3-ring binder guy, this also caught my eye:
“When the Towers tumbled, it created a reverse vacuum and papers were sucked up into the gathering cloud and dispersed all over downtown, the rivers, Brooklyn and Queens. But the binders the papers were in—the legal binders, the metal rings inside them—they didn’t survive.”
She mentions a telephone repairman. “He had been working on a telephone pole in Queens. He heard the explosions, the lines went down on him and everyone else. A piece of paper fluttered down and he caught it. It was a business card. A few days later he called the number on the card and asked for the name. A young woman answered. Yes, she said, she was alive, she had made it out of the building. No, she didn’t know her business cards had made it to Queens.” Noonan then adds (her wit fills the book), “Hollywood: Use this. In your version they fall in love.”
• What I Told the Bishops. “I quoted this dialogue [from The Passion of the Christ] to the bishops and the cardinal. And when I said the words Christ spoke in the film my voice broke, and I couldn’t continue speaking. I was embarrassed by this, but at the same time I thought, Well, OK.”
• Old Jersey Real: The greatness of The Sopranos. Noting the “masterpiece” final episode, she paints this picture: “The drama of Tony, the great post-9/11 drama of him, is that he is trying to hold on in a world he thinks is breaking to pieces.” Then this: “His bluster, his desperate desire to re-create order with the rough tools of his disordered heart and brain, are comic, poignant, ridiculous, human.”
Oh, dear—this is way too long. No space left to talk about Reagan as artist: “And the thing about artists is they try to see the picture whole.” Just a few more:
• Reflecting on 9/11 after hearing Os Guinness speak, Noonan writes, “So: The firemen were rough repositories of grace.”
• December 2005 column: “What Does It Mean That Your First Act on Entering a Country Is Breaking Its Law?”
• November 2014 column: “The Loneliest President Since Nixon”
• On Iraq: “When you have been catastrophically wrong, you have to bring a certain humility to the table.”
• June 2014: “Pundits and pollsters have been talking about a quickening of the populist spirit, and the possibility of a populist rise, for at least a quarter century. But they’re doing it more often now.”
• Flight 93: “No one said anything unneeded, extraneous or small. Crisis is a great editor.”
So…on this sad day, 15 years since Sept. 11, 2001, let me share an equally poignant link to some thoughts written by my son, Jason, who at 6:50 a.m. EDT on 9/11, stepped off a red-eye flight at JFK in New York. He remembers, “Not long after, I was standing in Manhattan at the corner of Franklin and West Broadway, just 12 blocks away from the on-fire World Trade Center.”
Click here to read Jason Pearson’s journal from 9/11: “Where Is God in This Tragedy? He Is Very Present in the Lives of His People.” You’ll also see Jason’s photos from that day.
To order from Amazon, click on the graphic below for The Time of Our Lives, by Peggy Noonan.
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) Where were you on 9/11?
2) What Bible verse comforts you when you experience dark or sad days? What person is your trusted “plumb line” for informing your worldview?
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The Book Bucket, Chapter 5, in Mastering the Management Buckets, highlights this core competency:
“We believe leaders are readers! We create a culture that embraces a healthy appetite for leadership and management books, journals, articles and audio resources. We mentor team members with thoughtfully selected titles and chapters to help them leverage their strengths, grow in their faith and serve others with passion. We don’t just talk about books—we actually read them!”
Over the 11 years of writing this eNews, I’ve tried to balance my infrequent political book reviews with a range of interesting specimens. Check them out!
• The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, by Robert D. Novak (662 pages)
• The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli (translated by Peter Constantine)
• Life’s a Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation and Success, by Chris Matthews
• Barack, Inc. – Winning Business Lessons of the Obama Campaign, by Barry Libert and Rick Faulk
• Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis—Suez and the Brink of War, by David A. Nichols.
• The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duff
• Churchill, by Paul Johnson
P.S. Read John’s recent blog on board governance, "4 Tips When Board Members Dip Into Operational Areas."
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