Edison Surveys the Ashes

It’s been one helluva week. Boston. Texas. And closer to home, my babysitter and our two daughters were rear-ended in rush-hour traffic. (Thankfully, they are all fine.) Over the past several days, my emotions have run a wide spectrum: shock, anger, guilt, grief and relief, just to name a few. My thoughts have included:”Everything can change in an instant”; “Life is a fragile gift”; “Nothing matters more than the health and safety of loved ones”; “There is danger everywhere”; “Most people are good.”

Take for example, the people who are working tirelessly to return the thousands of unclaimed bags left behind by marathon runners. In light of the magnitude of this tragedy, it may be a small thing, but it means a lot to runners like Rick Hoyt, the famous quadriplegic athlete I wrote about in a previous “Thought”. He was separated from his wheelchair when he and has father were stopped one mile short of completing their 31st Boston marathon.

A Facebook post by comedian Patton Oswalt went viral. He pointed out: “You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out….The good outnumber you, and we always will.” Trying to make sense of it all, I Googled ‘turning tragedy into triumph’. The search yielded 14.5 million results. I think Oswalt got it right.

Among those millions of Google results, I discovered a story about Thomas Edison, a man who refined the light bulb after 10,000 failed attempts, a man who invented the phonograph and the motion picture camera, and a man who held more than 1,000 different patents. At the age of 67, Edison watched as his life’s work went up in flames one December night. His laboratories and factory were all destroyed.

He lost $1.7 million dollars (the damages exceeded $2 million, but the buildings were insured for only $238,000 because they were made of concrete and thought to be fireproof). He lost a lifetime of notes and documents. The next morning, as he looked at the ruins, Edison said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”

How does this relate to this week’s events, which are so much bigger than an isolated fire? I can’t say it better than the blogger from The Lucky Penny, who wrote about Edison’s response:

“I am a definite believer in making the most of things, seeing the good in everything, and turning lemons into lemonade, but I also know how much of a struggle it can be at times to remain positive when we find ourselves facing hardships. To be able to see the “value in disaster” is something that not only can help us get through hard times when they occur, but also will allow us to move on much faster afterwards. A lot of times the initial tragedy, in this case the fire, is only half of the battle, as how it affects us going forward often times can add greatly to the level of “disaster” tragedy causes in our lives. By seeing a fresh start, a new opportunity to begin without mistakes, Edison prevented the fire from destroying anything more then what was in his factory that evening.”

Rick and Dick Hoyt are ready to run that last mile of the Boston marathon. Cynthia Simison writes: “As a tribute to those who lost their lives and as an example to those responsible for Monday’s bombing about the spirit and strength of America, the elder Hoyt says it would be an honor for them to finish the race one day.”

Hold fast to the spirit of possibility this weekend,