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Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

The Everglades are teeming, and not just with bugs—with ideas. Good, huge ones that are making a difference. I was there for a conference on humanism and was amazed to see how those who carry our culture forward (writers, teachers, lawyers, therapists, artists) are, one by one, positively impacting their own sphere of influence, which then radiates out to the world. Lawyers are inviting other lawyers in their community to discuss how to develop humanity in the courts. Professors are creating new systems of education. As the consummate humanitarian Dr. Daisaku Ikeda said, “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation, and, further, can even enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.” What we do, what we think, matters.

This came home to me years ago, when my then husband (a photographer) and I were doing a story for the Los Angeles Times magazine on alternative housing in Holland. The Dutch Tourism Board had arranged a number of appointments for us in different parts of the tiny country. In Rotterdam, for example, we covered a dizzying cube-shaped house that was all the rage. The next day, we were to meet with a woman who lived in a historic windmill outside Amsterdam.

During our briefing in the tourism office, the press relations director told us quietly that the woman’s husband, a physicist, had been killed a year earlier by the blade of the windmill while he was mowing the lawn. She hadn’t run the windmill since. It was a bit of a problem, he confided, because the apparatus must be oiled regularly and set into motion to keep it from deteriorating. But being Dutch—i.e., being sensitive to others’ feelings—he hadn’t mentioned it to her. He was telling us only so that we, too, would watch our words.

Directions in hand, we drove out to the countryside to meet her. It was April and still cold, but signs of spring were in the green fields and newly budding trees. The woman, whose name I’ve since forgotten, was delightful—a virtual encyclopedia of windmill knowledge. Outside on the grassy bank, she pointed to the canal and showed us, with gestures, how the mill converted wind energy to pump water. Then she took us inside. She and her husband had designed an attractive, modern living space within the round (and increasingly small as you ascended), five-story structure: open living room and kitchen at the bottom, bedrooms above, and finally, at the top, the windmill apparatus. As we knelt in the small round space, she explained its workings, holding a tub of lubricant for us to see. And then something in her life shifted.

“I’m going to turn it on,” she said. “You’ve come all the way from America. I don’t want to disappoint you.” The windmill creaked into motion, like an old man getting up from a long slumber. My husband and I exchanged looks. This was a moment we would remember.

Five minutes later, as we were tromping down five flights of stairs, the doorbell rang. Puzzled, our hostess ran to open it. Three neighbors stood in the doorway with packages of cakes, crackers and cheeses. From their homes across the canal, they had seen the blades of her windmill turn. One had run to tell the other. “We’re so happy,” they said as they hugged her, their tears flowing. “You’ve come back.”

Our hostess pulled glasses from the cupboard, opened a bottle of oranjebitters, and we all sat down on the circular sofa to chat, eat and drink. All that afternoon, neighbors streamed in with gifts of food and drink, and after a minute or two, all said the same thing: Thank you to the American journalists who had brought their friend back. We all cried. Peace travels.

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