An Evening of Art & Science: Everything Matters
by Ivana Polonijo
Dobro veče, kako ste? Dobrodošli u ovaj prekrasan prostor! Hvala što ste se odazvali našem pozivu. Ja sam Ivana Polonijo.
This was Croatian for Good evening, how are you all doing? Welcome to this beautiful space! Thank you for responding to our invitation.
My name is Ivana Polonijo and I am from a little country on the Mediterranean Sea called Croatia. I moved to the United States almost 15 years ago and one thing that still never ceases to amaze me is how much people here love the movie Princess Bride. Being a holder of an American passport now myself, I love it too. Are you familiar with it?
It’s a clever fairytale about Princess Buttercup and farm boy Wesley. It is famous for its dialogue and memorable scenes. It’s a love story, a slap-stick comedy and even has a ton of action.
There are many famous lines from that film… how about the one “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”?!
Now, that may be your favorite line, but I’d say that the most famous line from the movie is the one uttered by Wesley to Buttercup, repeatedly, throughout the film. Wesley says to Buttercup, over and over, “As You Wish”. When she first hears it, Buttercup enjoys it and bosses him around quite a bit, glad to hear it again and again. It takes her a while, but, finally, Buttercup realizes that when Wesley says “As you wish”, he means “I love you”. He means “I am here for you”. He means “I will keep showing up”.
Not so long ago (gosh, I almost said “Once upon a time”, I’m so in fairy tale mode now), so… not so long ago, I had no clue what Batten disease was. I had no idea what a monstrous battle against time it was, what a brutally painful experience it was if, as destiny would have it, you were a Batten child, a Batten parent, a Batten family member...
But when I saw our friend’s daughter Maya James courageously attempt to stand up from the dinner table after a delicious meal we had just shared in Columbus, Ohio, when I saw her legs shake, and her arm look for her mom’s, which was already right next to her, preemptively, at the ready, making that support available…
…when I saw Maya lean into her mom and stand both strong and unsteady, determined and vulnerable, ferocious and fragile, all my heart could start saying to Maya since that moment has been “As you wish”. “I am here for you”, “I am going to show up for you.” What can I do to make it easier, to lift the burden, to ease the suffering, even for a smidge?
A very long time ago, another, much more notable Croatian person literally electrified the world when he asked himself how he could help improve the quality of human life. Let tell me you a story about Nikola Tesla.
Nikola Tesla was a true hero of science. He was an inventor born in Croatia at the end of the 19th century. Like Maya, he had a really cool mom, who was very smart, very resourceful. She was an inventor – she invented a few small household appliances. She was an inspiration to him and supportive of his desire to become an inventor himself.
Nikola Tesla has impacted life everywhere. The electricity in your house, the internet in your computer, the radio you turn on in your electric motor-powered car, all these ideas were thought of by Tesla.
Tesla’s life was all about saying “As you wish” to humanity. But even though he was incredibly busy working all throughout his life, and especially after he moved to the United States, he was most of the time penniless. This is primarily because he was so focused on creating a better life for his fellow humans that he would pour all of his resources into his visionary ideas.
One of his most famous quotes goes like this:
“Money does not represent such a value as men have placed upon it. All my money has been invested into experiments with which I have made new discoveries enabling mankind to have a little easier life.”
Another reason Tesla was often penniless is because others took advantage of his selfless giving. Even the famous Thomas Edison once brutally tricked him! Shortly after Tesla moved to the United States, Edison promised him $50,000 to improve Edison’s electric station. When Tesla successfully accomplished this task, Edison told him he was only joking and didn’t pay him a penny!
But this did not deter Tesla at all. Skipping sleep and ignoring breaks, he kept working on his visions and turning his ideas into reality. He kept showing up at his lab and creating inventions to ease people’s lives.
We know based on this work in his lab and his 700 patents that Tesla was a brilliant inventor and scientist. But what we also recently came to recognize is that he was a true artist at heart.
Researchers who have been studying Tesla’s amazing life realized, after reading and re-reading his 700 patents and related journals and articles, that he thought of engineering as poetry. He saw no separation between art and science. He wrote in that in his journals that “we are all one”, and that this can be proven both metaphysically as well as scientifically. He had a vision that one day we would all be connected by a powerful global wireless communications system, and he wrote about it quite poetically.
I argue that it is because he was able to simultaneously occupy the spaces of both Art and Science that Tesla managed to achieve the impossible.
When he was a boy, Tesla climbed to the top of a barn and, holding onto nothing more than an umbrella, he jumped off. Did he fly? No. But he kept trying, showing epic fearlessness, and had the willpower to keep going. He sensed that behind his failure, there was the opportunity to change the world.
This jumping off and trying led to many ideas for helicopters, airplanes, radar, and x-rays, which, even though he could not put them into practice in his life time, survived him.
In the Princess Bride fairy tale, Wesley has to do much more than jump off a roof holding an open umbrella. He must find Buttercup after a long separation and save her from the bad guys. He must battle the evils of the mythical kingdom to be reunited with his true love.
The dedication he shows is captured in his signature phrase “As you wish”, and as he is overcoming many obstacles, we see that every small step he fearlessly makes in the face of evil matters. It brings him a step closer to a life with his beloved Buttercup.
This evening, as we think about families battling Batten, we will celebrate the space where Art and Science meet and where miracles happen. We will pay attention to the fact that we are all connected through our Six Senses and that therefore Everything Matters.
To help us accomplish this, I am inviting Wesley and Tesla’s spirits to be the patron saints of tonight’s event.
I am asking them to infuse each and every one of us with their power of selfless giving, diligent work habits and ever-present determination. We need those qualities to help children like Maya.
Batten disease is a villain much worse than the Six Fingered Man from Princess Bride. To help inventors and scientists find cure for it people like us have to engage in the art of saying “As you wish”. The art of showing up.
When you practice this, everything you do will matter. Your every gesture, every expression of support matters. This event is an opportunity to say “As you wish” to Batten families so let’s show up for them tonight!
Banner photograph by AJ Carpinelli