Karma refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent of an individual influences the future of that individual. Good intent contributes to good karma and future happiness. Bad intent contributes similarly to bad karma.
When David McCullough telephoned me in June of 2014, he was still very busy writing The Wright Brothers, which was published by Simon and Schuster (New York) eleven months later. I couldn’t believe it, but then again I could: my letter caught his attention and he actually called me.
Better yet, he agreed to meet with me to discuss the Anguilla project. This all transpired while the man who has twice won a National Book Award — and twice won a Pulitzer Prize — was working on his next book. In it he tells the story of Wilbur and Orville Wright, the bicycle mechanics who taught the world how to fly.
It was good karma.
As a kid I dreamed of soaring like a bird high above the treetops in the woodlands behind my childhood home. When I was only five, in fact, I climbed to the top of a good-sized pine tree with a pillowcase tied around my shoulders like a Superman cape.
I can’t remember if I was actually going to attempt to fly, or not, but I do remember my mother screaming and crying. In the end, I had to be rescued by the fire department because I couldn’t make my way back down the tree. I broke too many branches on my way up.
Knowing about my childhood dream of flying and becoming an astronaut, my wife bought me a Groupon deal for a flying lesson a few years ago. I took the lesson at my local airport, and then a couple more before deciding against the pursuit of my pilot’s license.
It was a true blast to fly the small Piper Warrior I took my lessons in, but it’s an expensive proposition, and it demands an incredible amount of time and dedication to get a private pilot’s license. Given the demands of my full-time day job, and my night and weekend focus on the Anguilla Rising movie project, I simply didn’t have the time to commit to it.
In the screenplay I finished writing in 2006, I tell Anguilla’s sensational revolution story from the POV of the veterinarian from Chicago who personally flew guns to Anguilla in a small twin-engine Piper Aztec (like the one in the image, left) in support of the Anguillians and their pursuit of some simple liberties.
The veterinarian was my neighbor in Anguilla when I lived and worked there in 1984 and 1985. Twenty years later he surprised me with an email, “Here’s the true story of the guns, first time ever told …” and that’s how the screenplay and movie project came about.
When I met Mr. McCullough at his home in Boston’s Back Bay in December of 2014, I felt like a kid in a candy store when he asked, “Would you like to see where I do my writing before you go?”
“Are you kidding?” I asked myself. “I get to see his workspace?”
I practically had to pinch myself to make sure that someone wasn’t pulling my leg — that one of America’s most distinguished and highly regarded writers, storytellers, and historians had actually invited me to meet with him at his home to discuss my passion project. Now, he was offering me the chance and privilege of seeing the inner sanctum of his workspace.
The Wright Brothers wouldn’t be published for another almost six months, but its book jacket had been designed, and he had a copy of it in his office; it was a mere few feet from his trusty Royal typewriter. From the moment I saw the book jacket, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book.
I finished reading The Wright Brothers about a week after it hit the bookstore shelves in May. As I would later tell Mr. McCullough in a letter, his story captured me from the beginning, and held me tight to the very end.
It also reminded me of some experiences that I’ve kept locked away since I was a boy. In this way it was a highly relatable and personal read, too.
With regard to the latter, for instance, a bully on a school bus bashed most of my front teeth in when I was seven. That incident had a profound impact on my life, and when I discovered that Wilbur fractured his teeth as a teen, I empathized with him. I both felt his pain and understood how it changed things, i.e. how it shook his confidence and changed his life.
Similarly, when my mother came down with cancer during my first semester at UMass in 1975, I left school to help care for my youngest siblings. When I learned that Wilbur chose to care for his ailing mother instead of going to college, I felt the warm touch of a kindred spirit.
As someone who had previously taken a few flying lessons, the story actually taught me more about flying than my flight instructor, or any of the books I had studied. Just as importantly to me, the Wright’s story is a great lesson in passion, perseverance, overcoming obstacles, and risk taking. It reminded me of my passion project focused on sharing Anguilla’s rich story about the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I was amazed to discover that May 30th is such an important day in both stories. Wilbur Wright wrote his life-changing letter to the Smithsonian on May 30th in 1899. He died on May 30th in 1912. Anguilla’s revolution started on May 30th in 1967.
It also turns out that December 17th was an important day both in the history of aviation, and in the history of Anguilla.
On that day in 1903, Orville made history when he risked everything by piloting the first powered airplane above a wind-swept beach in North Carolina. Twenty-two years later on December 17th, my good friend and neighbor — the late-veterinarian and pilot from Chicago who risked everything by flying modern military weapons into Anguilla in a small plane — was born.
I’m not a numerologist, but I can’t help but think of the coincidences with all of the dates.
I also can’t help but think of another coincidence. Everything changed — life changed — for the Wright Brothers as a result of Wilbur’s letter to the Smithsonian. Everything changed — life changed for me, too — as a result of my letter to David McCullough.
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