Trapped in an endless meeting the other day, one of those meetings when you lose track of what the meeting was originally about (hermeneutics? badgers?), and start trying to remember all the girls you ever had a crush on, or Chicago White Sox players, or both (La Marr Hoyt! Teresa O’Connell!), I got to pondering the word “entrepreneurship,” which is, let’s admit it, a rhinoceros of a word, with more vowels than seems decent in polite society. Unternehmen in German, says one friend of mine; `a`a in the Hawaiian, says another, means someone who is fearless. “Interestingly, the type of lava that forms jagged shards is also known as `a`a,” she adds.
Hyrwyddwr in the Welsh, says another friend, means he or she who undertakes, attempts, essays, begins … and my mind spins away completely, chewing on the way that a word that means vast and amazing things has become so commonplace and thin. To attempt, to begin, is really to dream, to envision, to speculate, and then to work like a burro to implement, to create, to sell. So mothers are entrepreneurs, aren’t they? And Christ, too, and especially St. Paul, the greatest public relations agent ever. Did he not envision that which might come to pass, and then work the market with unthinkable energy and creativity, until what he envisioned came to pass, and passeth still even in our time?
Or a cop—isn’t he an entrepreneur, really, envisioning a world that might be, and working furiously and brilliantly to bring it to birth? And soldiers—in the final analysis are they not wholly invested in a world beyond violence, where no child weeps in terror, and guns are all in hushed museums, and when people hear the word war they burst out laughing as at the most excellent and silly joke, which maybe someday war will be?
And universities like this one—are they not the most entertaining entrepreneurial adventures, really, selling a remarkably ephemeral product, insisting eloquently on their primacy in a culture that often sneers at wisdom, and continually undertaking the riveting and visionary project of shaping raw and selfish teenagers into generous and subtle agents of hope and courage?
And some countries—are they not fascinatingly difficult entrepreneurial ideas at their hearts? This country, for example, dreamed into being by farmers and merchants and a brilliant poor printer from Boston, a boy who invented bifocals, lightning rods, a new sort of stove, an odometer, swim fins, Daylight Saving Time, an excellent tool for plucking books from the high shelves of his library, and not one but two universities; this new sort of country, said its creators, would endeavor to treat every white man equally (women and people of other shades came later), and choose its CEO by vote of the workers, and give even slimy murderous thugs who try to murder people in planes by setting off shoe-bombs a fair trial, and undertake to create a society where everyone is educated, everyone has enough to eat, everyone can think and say and dress and act pretty much as they please, and you can pray any way you want, to whatever Coherent Mercy you are awed by?
The meeting ended eventually, after what seemed like weeks. For days afterward, I found odd pieces of paper in my pockets, with gnomic notes (Richie Zisk? Maureen McArdle?), but now I think maybe that was the best meeting ever, because it woke me up again to an idea so glorious no word can properly contain or explain it. Hyrwyddwrship, let us call it—the thing that most sets us apart from our companion species on this wild rock in the airless void, the thing that may yet save us all, the thing that we may well be here for, the thing that makes us the very image of God. We can dream, we can imagine—and then we can work like burros to make it real.