Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Path Between the Seize

Several characters loom large in the tale of the Panama Canal, told aptly by David McCullough in his book "The Path Between the Seas". Ferdinand de Lesseps, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, Teddy Roosevelt, John Stevens, George Goethals. Movers and shakers. Entrepreneurs. Go getters.

To many they were heroes, willing to go up against tremendous challenges, staring Goliath in the face and not backing down. Each displayed different strengths. de Lesseps was the consummate ambassador, able to whip up a crowd one person at a time as well as en masse. Bunau-Varilla was a chess player, moving political and technical pieces, and sacrificing pawns if necessary. Teddy Roosevelt was, well, Teddy Roosevelt and at least as far as the Canal operation was concerned, he was a visionary and a power plug. John Stevens, while less interested in politics, nevertheless was able to match the tool to the job unlike any before him.  Goethals both relished the power given to him and dispensed it with great effectiveness, meeting every setback with dogged determination.

Along with their strengths came some weaknesses, of course.  They were human.  And the greater the power, the greater the opportunity for it to be misused and for collateral damage, intended or not.

How does one draw lessons from such people? Many details of their lives are lost to history, or at least greatly dimmed by the fog of time and variant opinion.  The context for their behavior cannot be fully known, as it can not be known even for our closest friends.

Perhaps it is best just to paint with broad, brush strokes and keep the pointing fingers in our pockets.  After all, God has already given us the lessons we need to learn and the canal we need to travel. Staying in the Water of Life is the surest way of getting from this life's sea to the next.

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