THE BLOG
08/29/2012 11:47 am ET Updated Oct 29, 2012

Wrecking Ball -- Holding on While Letting Go

In "Fat Finger? No Way" I reviewed a book called Dark Pools. It explores how high-speed traders are siphoning off money from stock exchanges, institutional investors, and retail investors ("dumb money").

Several people said my post made them furious, but what could they do about it? Before I share my thoughts about what might be done, I want to share a couple of personal stories and say a bit about Bruce Springsteen's new album, Wrecking Ball.

Two boys and a boat

In January 1991 my two oldest nephews took a rowboat, and in the loneliness of a gray day they disappeared into the mists on Puget Sound and were never found. The concern of the community at the newly-built Evergreen college in Olympia was evident in the mounds of food covering every inch of the kitchen counters at my brother's house and the week hundreds of students spent searching for the boys.

My brother took me to meet a couple of his friends, a woman who survived an airplane crash, and a man who was among the first Americans to climb Mount Everest. The woman whose seat mate died in the crash was a travel agent who never went back on a plane again. The man attempted to console my mother and I for our loss with a climbing story.

Willi Unsoeld's story

"Sherpas ("What were those?" we asked.) came across a mountain elk with its antlers caught in the branches of a tree. They tried for days to free it. Nothing, it seemed, could work.The animal was going to die. They said prayers for it and continued down the mountain."

My mother and I both sat with blank faces. That was the story? That was it?

"It's about detachment," Willi answered. "You can't hold onto the outcome of what you do. You can only try your best. And let go when you can't do more."

Willi's two oldest children came into the room then. Devi, a gorgeous teenage girl who babysat for my nephews, told us she was going to hitchhike across the United States. Her older brother immediately tried to talk her out of doing something so dangerous. Devi insisted she was going to do it alone. I had no doubt that she would.

Puget Sound revisted

Many years later I found myself back in Olympia standing in a retired professor's living room. I wondered how close I was to where my nephews had lived. Advancing across the room to the picture window, I found myself looking straight down on Puget Sound.

Sailboats were skimming across the water, bouncing over dancing blue waves sparking in the warm golden sunlight. I was outraged. How could people be having fun on the waters that took the lives of two boys I loved?

Seeking relief I looked upward. I saw a mountain on the other side of the Sound. Was that Mount Ranier, where Willi Unsoeld had died in an avalanche?

As if he'd read my mind, the old man began a lament, "I had a good friend. His name was Willi Unsoeld. Every year he used to take his students up the mountain. One fall he told me he was taking them up the mountain. I told him it was too early. The snow was too soft. It wasn't safe. But he went anyway."

"I begged him not to go", the man's voice repeated in a quaver. "But he wouldn't listen".

There was nothing I could say. I remembered Devi's brother begging her not to hitchhike across the US. Just a few years later Devi died from altitude sickness while climbing Nanda Devi, the mountain she was named for. Her father had to leave her there on the mountain, just as the sherpas left the beautiful elk on Everest.

Wrecking Ball

In 2009 when Bruce Springsteen premiered an MP3 single called "Wrecking Ball" I ignored it. Honestly! A song about the pending demolition of Giants Stadium?

But Bruce's new album this year was titled Wrecking Ball. Bruce finally found a bigger context for this song. That was the financial crisis. "Wrecking Ball" follows six other songs about "hard times" on the Special Edition CD with bonus tracks. Bruce offsets the grimness of the first seven songs with with promises of love, a new day comin', and a rearrangement of his 1999 "Land of Hope and Dreams". Then comes the final song about life after death.

The new voice in the 2012 version of "Wrecking Ball" is that of Giants Stadium itself - addressing its loyal fans on the morning of what it knows what will be its last day. The Stadium tells some tall tales about its life; it encourages its fans to "hold tight to your anger" at its demise, then dares its destroyers to "Bring on your wrecking ball! Let me see what you got!"

That sentient old Stadium shares its gritty wisdom about playing on "when the game has been decided and we're burnin' down the clock," then whoops off into battle. This isn't a sappy sports metaphor. There's no win, not even the hope of survival, at the end of this game. Yet the Stadium's simultaneous attachment to its own nature and detachment about its lack of a future doesn't sound a bit like defeat.

Would that we all could have such perspicacity in loss - even loss of life, your retirement, dreams, hopes, or love!