Sometimes in my travels, I find someone really interesting and often important. To help me remember, and offer up these finds, I have created this post. If I works out as planned, this will be a sedimentary product: today I add the first layer, hoping to add from time to time as I find (likely stumble onto) more entries, building like a river bed, but hopefully cleaner and more interesting. We’ll see.
You’ll find the layers are quite random, the order indicative of nothing more than what nugget I picked and when. In a way, similar to Clive James’ collections of short biographies of people he found interesting or important: he could not decide on an order, so he alphabetized by name. Me, I’ll just not organize at all for now. It’s not like I’m getting paid for all this…
So here’s some People:
1) Arthur M Young, (1905 – 1995). He graduated with a degree in Math, wandered a bit, then decided to build a commercial helicopter. After 19 years pursuing this goal, it was achieved: in 1946 the Bell 47 received the first U.S. commercial helicopter license. Within a year he left Bell Aircraft Corp. and focused the rest of his life on paranormal studies, developing a theory of what he called the Psychopter, “the winged self.” In 1952, he created the Foundation for the Study of Consciousness, which in 1972 became the Institute for the Study of Consciousness, mentoring young physicists in trying to prove practical applications of quantum theory. I adapted this biosketch from a NYT article by Ken Johnson about unusual finds in NYC museums: in this case an actual Bell-47D Helicopter hangs above visitors to the Museum of Modern Art, “hovering like a giant dragonfly over the stairs leading to MoMa’s cavernous atrium… this delicate yet ruthlessly efficient green machine with its cockpit enclosed by a transparent bubble” – wow, he actually makes me want an art museum, to gawk at a helicopter! I imagine it looks basically like one from the TV show MASH, except hanging from a building somehow, surreally cool. I also imagine Mr Young would approve.
2) ”To support the common good is divine” -
If you’re ever looking for a great biography or interesting American history, try out Benjamin Franklin’s famous autobiography: lots of surprises and advice on how to live well, prosper, and make a difference. Did you know he ran away from home in Boston to Philadelphia as a teenager? I won’t spoil the rest.
Attributed to Mr. Franklin, the above quote is the motto of America’s first lending library, which he founded in 1732 in Philadelphia, convincing friends to loan him books for this purpose. He was hardly a wealthy man at the time.
3) A hybrid odd-couple entry you’d never guess, I suspect:
I’m grew up Protestant, long since lapsed – I was simply too attuned to all the discrepancies between the teachings and example of Jesus and the words & actions of his supposed followers. Perhaps I was unfairly harsh – no one’s perfect – but at times it has seemed that many (perhaps most) Christians have become too complacent, and too apt to live comfortable rationalizations, to put in much of a real effort to improve themselves in their faith. Religion should inspire us and push us forward to improve ourselves and our approach to others, not help us feel cozy with our imperfection and condemn others. Did not Jesus advise us to address the log in your own eye, not the tiny mote in someone else’s? Easy words to read, hear, and recite: much harder to apply. Real faith is hard, so it seems to me, not easy, and not a once a week thing, not something to buff one’s public persona.
So why do I mention this? Myself a Deist (quite novice), nevertheless I know great words when I see them, the same with great ideas, and I deeply appreciate both. Here’s a quote I found, in of all places, a biographical article on Margaret Thatcher in Vanity Fair, Dec 2011 p 241 (sorry, don’t have author’s name, just a clipping of p241), a rather nice prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi:
“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.
Where there is error, may we bring truth.
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.
And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
I can see why folks might dub him a Saint (although I doubt the thought occurred to him): fine words indeed. I could see reciting this prayer, to help me do better and err less, perhaps. It could hardly hurt.
Beautifully crafted, worthy of action, but the follow-through is hard, oh so hard, isn’t it? Knowing the right thing in theory is generally easy: usually the hard part is remembering it in the heat of the moment, avoiding the powerful temptations to rationalize a safer or more self-serving path, and doing right. In ethics, for me, that is where the real action lies, where our efforts for improvement possess the greatest return on our personal investment. It is also where we most often go astray.
Fancy that: not even particularly religious, here I am giving a sermon. Please, focus on the ideas, not the poor soul who offers them.
4) Not just yet my friends, not just yet…