Wednesday, April 4, 2012

the Panama Canal

Last night I got hooked on watching a documentary about the building of the Panama Canal, a 50-mile-long, man-made link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. At a ballpark cost of $14.3 billion (in 2007 dollars) and a grossly underestimated 6,000 lives, the canal was an engineering marvel that got its liftoff from the flamboyant U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt but attained orbit under the stewardship of President William Howard Taft. After the French failed during the 1880's in their attempt to build the canal, the can-do Americans took over and, after 10 years of back-breaking work, logistical nightmares, and debilitating and sometimes fatal disease, opened the locks to oceanic traffic in 1914. In order to accomplish the decade-long task, the U.S. had had to create an entire country -- Panama -- by the thinly-veiled wresting of control of right-of-way from Colombia.

Engraved on a plaque in Washington are the words that may sum up Teddy Roosevelt's appreciation of the effort required to create the Panama Canal:

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. 
For all the political posturing, I imagine Roosevelt was right: Better to fail at what anyone honestly loves than to succeed at what they merely fear or hate. No need for engineering marvels, no need for accolades that echo down the ages ... just the need to exercise love, sweat and perseverance.

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