Archive for June 27th, 2010

Painting of Old Centerway Bridge by Marty Poole

At yesterday’s memorial service for Tom Buechner, former congressman and head of Corning, Inc Amory Houghton was one of the speakers who stood before the large crowd under the spectacular Tiffany stained-glass windows of  the Christ Episcopal Church in Corning and told stories about the man.  At one point, Houghton said that  while Tom was a brilliant man (he had , after all, been chosen by the Houghtons to start the Corning Museum of Glass in 1950 at the tender age of 23) he sometimes came up with “nutty ideas“.  He then cited the stained glass bridge that I mentioned in yesterday’s post as an example, almost harumphing as he finished as if to say, “How crazy is that?”

Cheri and I exchanged sideways glances and to the crowd’s credit, very few seemed to share the humor Amo seemed to find in it. 
Nutty idea“?
Big? Yes.   Risky?  Sure.  Difficult?  Of course. Expensive?  Positively.  Impractical?  Maybe…
But at the same time, it is an idea that is forward-thinking on a grand scale, filled with the possibility of returns for the community and company that dwarf the initial risk.  Visionary, yes.  Nutty? Hardly.
And therein sits the division between those who see possibility and those who see impossibility.  It’s a very narrow chasm often leaving two people seemingly standing next to one another, close enough to touch.  But between them is a gaping ravine deep enough to deter crossing.  The believer in possibility stands on one side and tries to convince the denier of possibility that all he must do is to dare to lift his foot and simply step across to the other side.  Though not so far away, the view is so much different from this side! 
Maybe this difference of views is the same that separates us all.  Deep chasms we dare not cross, formed by our fears and the thoughts of what can’t be done rather than what can.  I read an interesting editorial the other day where the writer talked about this moment in time in our country versus the time after World War II.  At that time, our national debt was 120% of our GDP as opposed to the nearly 90% now.  The highest income tax rates hovered at 90%, shockingly higher than today.  Unemployment was soaring as the masses of troops returned to the civilian ranks.  We were staggering and teetering after a decade of the Great Depression and a costly war.  Yet, as the writer of the editorial  pointed out,  there was a positivism then that is virtually absent now.  We had persevered the worst in the Depression and came out victorious in the War and we had come out the other side with an atitude that we could get anything done if we set our will to it.  We embarked on two huge and costly efforts despite staggering costs-  the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-ravaged Europe and the GI Bill that rewarded our troops for their selfless sacrifice with  a chance at a higher education and low-cost housing, one of the largest entitlement programs in our history and one that set the table for the growth of the middle class in the 1950’s.
Today, that positivism is nowhere to be found in the general populace.  Gone is the roll-up-your-sleeves attitude.   We have become afraid to move forward, preferring to stand in the present and not step across the chasm of possibility to a future that moves forward.  We have fallen prey to fear and negativity and nothing good, absolutely nothing, can come of this attitude.
So, maybe hearing “nutty idea” spoke to more than a little museum on a little  bridge in a little city in a rural county in upstate New York for me.  Maybe it spoke to the symptoms  and causes of what ails us as a nation– the differing viewpoints of those who look on the same thing and see two vastly different versions.  A chasm between possibility and impossibility.

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