It happened tomorrow, Dec. 17, but it happened back in 1903. Dec. 17, 1903 was the day that a couple of bicycle repairmen, Orville and Wilbur Wright, from Dayton, Ohio, prepared to try out a machine they had assembled with which they intended to "slip the surly bonds of earth." They selected Kitty Hawk in North Carolina because of its location, because there was nothing "sticking up" they might run into and because the prevailing winds would help them pull it off - figuratively and literally. Then too, I believe the ground was sandy and would provide a little softer a landing if the "slipping the surly bonds" thing didn't slip too well. They had researched, calculated, tested as best they could and just plain guessed. I understand they flipped a coin to determine which one would climb aboard the contraption and which one would steady the wing. Wilbur flew that first flight. Orville watched.
There was an Englishman named George Cagely who designed and flew a glider in 1853. Well, actually I understand it was Mr. Cagely who designed the glider but it was his coachman who rode it on its maiden flight. That was the way it was done in "jolly old England" in those days. His glider had no means of propulsion, although I understand Mr. Cagely had some scheme to power the thing with gunpowder. Nothing more was heard of his efforts. Maybe the coachman quit? For whatever the reason I guess the whole idea sort of "blew up."
Folks in New Zealand claim that a young farm lad named Richard Pearse had achieved powered flight on his farm back on March 31, 1903. That date would be several months before the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk. For whatever reason, Mr. Pearse didn't attain wide recognition for his achievement. Then too, I understand he powered up his machine and accelerated down a hill on his farm. His machine lifted off the ground. It flew or, more correctly, Richard and his machine ceased descending as rapidly as the hill did. That was "flight" in a sense but actually he was just not falling as rapidly as the ground underneath him. The culmination of the achievement was a sort of collection of bent-up machinery on the valley floor below.
We in the United States evidently had a more active publicity system. We also had an environment that encouraged the development of ideas no matter how strange or wild they might seem. But before we get carried away arguing over who did what and when, who was first, let's recognize this fact: Very little is accomplished in this world by a single individual. Not meaning to take anything from anyone who achieves a goal, who attains the culminating breakthrough, but we should never forget that everything we achieve is the result of the efforts of so many others who have gone before. Nobody is more aware of this than those who gain the recognition, who achieve the glory but who also recognize that they have "assembled," if you will, the efforts of the many who have paved the way, who blazed the trail for them.
I feel I must confess to being one of those fortunates who achieved several goals in life in this way. You see, I too have "slipped the surly bonds of earth" and quite literally, traveling west "faster than a speeding bullet," I have seen the sun rise in the western sky. That's literally true. Think about that! All this was achieved compliments of those who went before, who, in some instances, gave their lives to show the way. "And while with silent, lifting mind I've trod that high, un-trespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God" (John Magee Jr.). I remember those who have gone before, who showed the way, upon whose shoulders I rode. Thank you.
It would seem, in this season of the year, a good time for each of us to reflect, to realize that none of us does it alone. Keep that in mind during the trials and tribulations that punctuate our daily lives, the slights, real or imagined, by our fellow human beings. Believe in yourself. Have self-confidence. Accept and make allowances for those who haven't yet realized the fact that we're all in this world together. Appreciate life and share with one another. Do that and you'll have a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.
Editor's note: Ben Mukkala is a local author whose several books on life and living are available in bookstores and gift shops or through his web site, www.benmukkala.com. You can contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.