One winter day in Washington, I came to work early.
Early enough to see a repair man lying under a broken vending machine. Turning screws and tightening knobs.
In the quiet, cold morning, there was a fix going on.
And that wasn’t the only one.
At any moment, there are disjointed shoulders being set, shoes being resoled, people sitting around a table working it out.
There are bruises being kissed and WD-40 being sprayed and holes being patched.
The world is full of fixings. But they don’t get a lot of air time.
Bob Hawke, Australia’s 23rd Prime Minister, puts a fine point on it:
“The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest.”
Problems are headliners.
Fixes are barely footnotes.
Which is a lopsided equation. That depicts the world as overrun by indomitable, size-32 font problems. While a few flimsy fixes hang on for dear life at the outer most edges.
There is a word for that depiction of the world:
Because we are fixers.
We might not see ourselves that way. But we come from a long line of repairers that invented ACE bandages and signed peace treaties. Developed indoor heating and made vitamins taste like candy.
In 1921, James Joyce had a problem.
The Little Review had published Ulysses in serialized episodes. But the content was deemed scandalous by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Who charged The Little Review‘s editors with obscenity, and won. Effectively banning Mr. Joyce’s seven-year labor from being published in America.
“My book will never come out now,” the author from Dublin told his friend from America, Sylvia Beach.
Ms. Beach, the owner of Shakespeare and Company on Paris’s Left Bank, gave the problem some thought.
And then provided the fix.
“Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honor of bringing out your Ulysses?” she offered, having never published a book before.
Mr. Joyce accepted.
And Ms. Beach hustled, scrapped, and elbowed to publication a book that changed the landscape of literature.
We might not be the most experienced. We might not be the most powerful. We might not be the most wealthy.
But to paraphrase author George Eliot:
The work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect people.
We aren’t perfect.
We aren’t going to let that stop us.
We have the honor of being the fixers.
And when Ulysses shows up at our door – no matter the font size – it’s game time.