Welcome relief in summer of discontent

August 11, 2010

Phew! With all the bad karma swirling around the financial markets, the Middle East, The Hague and Asia, it came as a real surprise last month to find so many of us moved by the miraculous rescue of nine trapped coal miners in Quecreek, Pa. Ironically, the palpable tension during the bleakest days of the ordeal could not have had a better symbol than the photo of the burly, hard-hatted rescue worker that ran in U.S. newspapers on July 27. At first glance, the scene conveys the anxiety as workers scrambled to replace a broken drill bit. Upon closer inspection, however, the central figure's sleeveless T-shirt reads in big, bold type: THE RIGHT TO BARE ARMS.

It is such an amusing play on words that readers no doubt could hardly compute its appearance in the context of an event that seemed doomed to a tragic end. Indeed, the day after the miners were rescued, I came across the picture in my office again and I laughed out loud. The release felt awfully good.

Why did this event affect so many of us so deeply?

Well, I'm no psychiatrist, but ever since last September, it seems to me that we as a people have been in dire need of as much good news as possible. And it hasn't been easy to come by. Tragedy in Manhattan, Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania — ironically not far from the miner miracle — last fall triggered war in Afghanistan, and it could soon lead to a full-scale invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile, Israel, Palestine, India and Pakistan all still smolder with hatred this summer, while Wall Street seems to be in a state of shock, despite last month's late rally. Even our national pastime seems headed for an unavoidable work stoppage, perhaps as early as this month.

Taking inspiration where you can find it

So, what happened at Quecreek can be important, not just for the saving of lives thought surely lost, but as the basis of hope for so many other things often dismissed as impossible. Indeed, this industry has spent much of the last two centuries confounding naysayers.

The English Channel Tunnel, the Empire State Building and Sears Tower, among myriad other mega-achievements, all were dismissed at one time as impossible. Today, some have even resurrected the notion of building a mile-high skyscraper at Ground Zero, one that would triple the height of the fallen Twin Towers. It sounds impossible, but is it?

Last month, our editorial staff went on a short outing to see Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava's first completed design in the U.S., his remarkable Milwaukee Art Museum expansion. As we relaxed over dinner on the shores of Lake Michigan, we watched transfixed as the facility's trademark winged sunscreen silently folded over the glass-walled entry hall, an act it repeats every day at 5 p.m.

It was a sight that reminds us that any and all things may truly be possible in this remarkable industry.


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