There are a few great men and women who see in their mind’s eye what the rest of us cannot. They see the world as oddly deficient; lacking in that one thing that would make life simpler, better, more tolerable, or esthetically more pleasing. They not only see what’s missing, they try to make the world whole. Some are successful, some are not, but the ones that do manage to fill the gap actually affect change in the world.
Some of this change is not recognized immediately. The arts are particularly notorious for not recognizing the worth of its contributors until after their passing. Van Gough’s genius was not well received until after his death. The price of his passion is well known. For many painters, their notoriety and fame only come with the “death premium.” There are a few masters, Rembrandt for example – Bach & Mozart for others, that receive accolades, wealth and fame for their work, but even they could not anticipate the profound impact of their contribution on generations to come. This is not so unusual for the arts because despite the tangible nature of what is produced, the impact on society is very intangible. Defining how the arts might lift the quality of life itself is not an easy concept to grasp.
There are other more direct examples of filling the gap that are no less profound, but that are far more literal and contribute both to the aesthetic as well as the practical. Joseph B. Strauss, standing at the northernmost point of San Francisco watching the robust ferry traffic traversing the bay, envisioned a different solution. He had completed hundreds of small drawbridges before he lobbied for and was selected to be the primary engineer on the
Imagine yourself as Joseph Strauss on May 27, 1937 striding deliberately over that bridge on opening day, confident that with each step you had just changed the world. In my one tenuous link with history, my father-in-law walked down the center of the
Alexander Graham Bell was devoted to his wife and his mother, both of whom were deaf. In an effort to make the world a more inclusive place he invented the telephone in 1876. Within ten years, telephones were in over 150,000 homes and businesses and adoption continued just as fast as they could string wire and produce phone sets.
Oddly enough, as the telephone became ubiquitous,
Most of us don’t think about these life-altering leaps of change that swirl about us. We simply accept them as common place without further thought to how the world was before. We just accept it as it is today without recognizing that yesterday the world wasn’t quite like this.
There were times when I am certain my own mother wished she were deaf. As is typical of young siblings growing up in the same household, my sister and I, on more than one occasion disagreed with each other. This of course is a polite euphemism for fighting. More often than not, we wanted to play with the same toys at the same time or sit in the same chair…at the same time. Our arguments nearly always raised the ambient noise level in the house to unacceptable levels. These less than serious transgressions were almost always dealt with in the same manner. We were sent to our rooms. This gave my mother a few minutes respite from the turmoil, and us a chance to turn our attentions to anything less contentious than each other.
As with any small children, our rooms were adequately filled with toys and like most toys they were based on grown up things like real cars, or real airplanes, or real kitchens, but they were toys. Thanks to the groundwork laid by Mr. Bell, one of the items I had in the bottom of my closet was a toy telephone set which consisted of two mostly plastic telephones, a roll of wire and a couple of batteries. Thanks also to Mr. Bell, his design was so simple that these toy phones worked just like the real thing.
On one such occasion when we had earned some quiet time in our rooms, I found solace in my toy telephones. The problem with telephones, however, is the need for Mr. Bell’s Watson to be on the other end to hear. With great mischief in mind, I peered out of my doorway and saw my sister down the hallway doing the same. Whatever argument had precipitated our separation was instantly forgotten. With Mom safely in the other room and with knowingly quiet glances, we conspired to conspire.
I affixed the wires to the phone sets and with some effort pushed one of the phones down hardwood floor in the hall toward Kathy’s room. She stealthily retrieved it. Within minutes we were whispering to one another over the phones, “Can you hear me?” “Yes. Can you hear me?” I don’t think that we ever stopped looking at one another. “Can you see what I’m holding?” “Yes. Can you see what I’ve got?” The phones were just another excuse to play, but this time we were quiet. I am sure that Mom never interrupted our “time out” because she knew exactly what we were up to.
I regret that I am not able to say that because of this experience I know that I have changed the world. I have not been gifted with the sight to see what others do not. I am not a scientist. I am not an inventor, an artist, or musical composer. Oh, I dabble, but I am not a serious dabbler. I do not think about things that are missing from my life and figure out ways not to miss them anymore. My path has been pretty traditional in that regard. However, I am thoughtful with a blank page.
My father-in-law is an outgoing fellow. He talked his way into dental school after a stint in the Navy, and later spent years talking and swapping stories with his patients. As a bright twenty year old with his whole life ahead of him, he joined the throng of celebrants as they walked over the
The stress of building the
We all are inventors to some degree. We all fashion our own lives. We make of them what we will. We impact our circle of friends and acquaintances and perhaps alter their course as well as our own. Unlike
Can you see the ripples?
© 2007 Mark Indermill - All Rights Reserved