The Spirit of the Night by John Atkinson Grimshaw
There is no use trying, said Alice; one can’t believe impossible things.
I dare say you haven’t had much practice, said the Queen. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.
Oprah Winfrey, O Magazine, December 2003
Do you think Lao-tzu talked about the Tao but didn’t believe or cultivate it? He knew that everything in the universe comes from the Tao and that it’s impossible to leave the Tao. There wasn’t an organized religion then, but it was the same Tao.
Jen Fa-jung, interviewed by Bill Porter, Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits
An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak, and impossible to be silent.
Edmund Burke, on the impeachment of Warren Hastings, 1789
You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas.
It’s a Wonderful Life, screenplay by Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett and Frank Capra
Many spiritual seekers have no idea how cynical and doubt-laden they actually are. It is this blindness and denial of the presence of doubt and cynicism that makes the birth of a profound trust impossible. A trust without which final liberation will always remain simply a dream.
I will try is the most dreadful statement one can make.
Krishnamurti: Years of Fulfillment, by Mary Lutyens
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible…
We are the miraculous, the true wonders of this world
Free to choose our ends, and our new beginnings
That is when, and only when…
We come to it
Maya Angelou, A Brave And Startling Truth
After the visionary Wright Brothers proved the possibility and viability of flight, they offered their patent free of charge to the U.S. military, who saw no future in it and turned it down. Undaunted, they went to Europe, where the French hailed them enthusiastically. At the end of WWI, France had the most productive aeronautics industry in the world, with 12,000 aviators and as many planes. Though these pioneering days of flight carried incredible risks, the French businessman Pierres-George Latecoere envisioned an opportunity to set up long distance mail routes in Europe, Africa and South America. One of the indomitable pilots on these routes was Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince.
In her biography of Saint-Exupery, Stacy Schiff writes that at times the early days of flight resembled a Keystone Comedy. She describes Latecoere consulting his Italian friend, businessman and former pilot Beppo de Massimi, on his plans:
The underlying argument, according to the Italian [Massimi], seemed to be: ‘I’ve reworked all the numbers. They confirm the opinion of the specialists: It cannot be done. We have only one option: To go ahead and do it.’
Schiff continues: “Massimi was flown from Toulouse to Alicante where he had arranged for a 600 meter landing strip to be cleared. Unfortunately his request had been understood to mean 600 square meters; sometime before or after the plane crashed and Massimi’s nose began to drip blood, the Italian accurately noted, ‘It’s a handkerchief, not a landing strip!’
He and his pilot immediately set out to clear a suitable runway, as Latecoere’s arrival was delayed. His pilot had lost his glasses to turbulence in the Pyrenees and had gone on to overfly Barcelona, where he should have stopped to refuel, without seeing the city. With an empty tank he landed on a strip of sand about one-third of the way between Barcelona and Alicante. Here he and Latecoere managed to refuel, and the two continued on their way.
With his passenger’s help the pilot was able to make out the airstrip at Alicante but not the windsock, which indicated that he was landing with a tremendous tailwind. The airplane raced down the length of the newly extended runway to crash against the rocks at its end. After being helped from the wreckage, the incorrigible Latecoere concluded, “That didn’t go so badly. We’ll have to repair these planes. In a month we’ll go all the way to Morocco.”
Screenwriter Gerard Brach
The following regards the challenge of agoraphobia faced by gifted French screenwriter Gerard Brach, who has written the movies Quest for Fire, The Lover, Jean de Florette, Manon of the Spring, Tess, and The Name of the Rose, among many others.
[A] memorable cab ride in the summer of 1987 marked the first time that Brach had stepped outside his Paris apartment alone in nearly seven years. And he has continued to improve. On good days, he eats lunch at a restaurant about 100 yards from his apartment. He cannot thank [film director Jean-Jacques] Annaud enough. “Jean-Jacques has been very, very compassionate with me, he understands me perfectly,” Brach says. “With many people this is impossible. They will say to me, “What’s with you? Why don’t you go outside? You’re joking, right?”
“It is the situation of every man who is sick. People who are well cannot bear those who are sick because the sick cut the beautiful ambience of—I don’t know how to say it. It is like putting a crippled hand in a black leather glove on the table at a fine restaurant during dinner. It reminds people of their frailty. But not Jean-Jacques,” Brach adds. “He doesn’t judge me because I do not go out. He never judged me.”
…Brach has never sought professional treatment for his agoraphobia, but he suspects the illness is rooted in the traumas of his early life. He was born in Brittany and grew up in extreme poverty in Paris. By 18, he had contracted tuberculosis and landed in a sanitarium as a charity case. He spent nearly five years there, undergoing brutal operations that eventually left him with one lung. The mental agony was equally intense; antibiotics were not readily available, and death was a regular event. “It was just after the war, and there was a very strange collection of people at this place,” Brach recalls. “Communists, anti-Communists, members of the Resistance, deportees. We even had some people coming in from the concentration camps–some Jews, some not. It was a fantastic school of pain.”
Excerpt from article, The Man Who Wouldn’t Go Out, by Laurence B. Chollet, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Dec.18,1994
Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice
As I tried to stand, I felt a sharp pain in my left ear; I lost my balance and fell over on the dirt floor. Kamainja rushed in to help me back into my hammock… My ear continued to throb. I was feverish and dizzy… I could hear people around me, but could not see them… Days (three, I would later learn) seemed to pass without interruption. Then I sensed someone standing above me… A familiar yet frightening face loomed out of the inky blackness: The Jaguar Shaman.
He threw branches and leaves on the fire and a thick, aromatic smoke filled the hut… turning my head to the side, he squeezed sap from the fungus first into one ear and then the other. Finally, he began chanting a slow and soft mournful dirge and washing me with a warm solution; he gave me a tea to drink, and I fell asleep.
When I awoke, I could not tell how much time had passed or even whether the healing ritual had actually occurred. When I asked what had happened, he simply said, “You were sick.” I was familiar with the fungus the medicine man had used to treat what must have been an ear infection and I believe that antibiotic compounds in the sap cured the illness. But I could never pry out of him or Kamainja the names of the herbs he had steeped in the warm water or the meaning of the words he had spoken as he bathed me with the infusion.
I thought about this experience a lot over the years as I came to know more of the Indians and their way of life. In this reality, the cure for my earache could have come from a dream, a healing plant, or a chant. Over the course of my research, there has never been a shortage of incidents, apparitions, dreams, and coincidences impossible to explain through the prism of Western science. The secret of healing does not lie only in the biochemical weaponry of the plants themselves. Healing of serious ailments in indigenous Amazonian societies almost always involves ritual.
Mark Plotkin, Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice
Six People Who Made the Impossible Possible
Though there are countless people who have done this and are doing this every day, here are six more people that made the impossible possible:
After Galileo Galilei‘s book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was published in 1632, he was sent to Rome and tried before the Inquisition for supporting the idea that the planets orbited around the sun, previously theorized by Copernicus and such great minds as Pythagoras and Hildegard. He was publicly denounced as a heretic and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. He was not even allowed to discuss his theories and all his writings were prohibited. In frail health at 69 years old, Galileo was forced on his knees to read the renunciation of his beliefs that they had written for him. His work was not officially recognized as valid by the Vatican until 1993. Yet today, the Catholic point of view is that he was the “avowed and strenuous champion of Copernicanism,” and that “these discoveries… invested Galileo himself with the credit of being the greatest astronomer of his age, if not the greatest who ever lived. They were also the cause of his controversy with ecclesiastical authority.
An African American baseball player took the field for the first time in professional baseball in April, 1947, for the Brooklyn Dodgers, amidst the protests of those supporting U.S. apartheid. It seems incredible today, but some people actually believed African Americans would lower the standards of sports. Facing tremendous pressure and responsibility, experiencing abuse and criticism even from teammates, dealing with forced segregation and not even allowed to stay in the same hotels with his team, Jackie Robinson still managed to excel on the field. He was awarded the Rookie of the Year award by The Sporting News, the National League’s Most Valuable Player award in 1949, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame his first year of eligibility. He also lent his time and energy to the Civil Rights movement in numerous activities, including helping to found a minority-owned commercial bank in Harlem, New York, and starting a construction company for low-income housing.
Chico Mendes was born into a family of rubber tappers—seringueiros—who use a sustainable agricultural system that takes rubber from trees without harming them, one of many ways people use the rich resources of the rainforest without harming this irreplaceable ecosystem, evolved over many millions of years, whose existence—and demise—has far reaching effects on the Earth. In the 1970’s in the state of Acre in Northwest Brazil, Mendes, though poor and largely self-educated, became a leader in defending not only the rainforest, but the people who lived there. When the rainforest was threatened by those who would destroy it for temporary profits—both corporate interests such as cattle ranching, mining, and devastating road-paving projects, and the corrupt government officials they influenced—he organized the people and began a grass-roots, peaceful protest movement.
Anthropologist Dr. Stephan Schwartzman* writes of how this corruption and devastation affected an elderly rubber tapper, who greatly appreciated Chico Mendes’ work and courage. “When the ranchers came in from São Paulo, bought up the decaying estates with the rubber tappers still on them and started burning down houses, sending around the hired guns and bringing the forest down, he was driven out. He had lost everything he had and come to the city for absolute lack of any place else to run… That old ex-rubber tapper, it seems to me, understood precisely the greatness of what Chico Mendes did, and we should all understand it as he did. At the end of the world in a country in which even today the very word “citizen” has a faintly ironic sense to it, Chico Mendes believed in citizenship and he believed in the exercise of citizenship—in defense of the rubber tappers’ land rights, in defense of the forest—enough to die for it.”
“But what the old man in the shantytown admired about Chico was not just his courage and his willingness to confront the powerful. It was his audacity and effectiveness. He would not only stand up to the rancher, but also win—save the rubber tapper’s home, stop the clearing, send the peons packing and for good measure bring in the authorities. The issue for me was then to make other outsiders and foreigners see Chico with a little of the perspective of that old man, and of others that I came to know.”
Mendes endured constant threats and even imprisonment, and on December 22, 1988, he was murdered by cattle ranchers, but the global outcry from his death served to further the cause he had given his life for, with millions learning for the first time the tragedy of rainforest destruction. It led, in part, to Brazil’s decision to host the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and the forest Mendes fought for is now the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve covering 970.570,00 hectares.
(*Dr. Schwartzman, of the Environmental Defense Fund, worked to save the rainforest and its peoples early on, and worked closely with Mendes, Brazilian environmental groups, indigenous people’s organizations and community groups.)
In the early 1800s, a series of bills against cruelty to animals had tried and failed in the English Parliament. When the Irishman Richard Martin tried to pass protection for horses and draft animals, many of his colleagues broke into laughter. The laughter increased when colleagues suggested that next they might be asked to pass a bill for protection of dogs and cats. The next year, in 1822, Martin tried again, and this time was successful in getting an anti-cruelty law passed, this one including cattle and sheep. He then went on to lead the way in making sure this bill was enforced, and was among the founders of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in 1824.
A 17-year old girl in 14th century France was derided and considered delusional and even satanic because she believed angels spoke to her. She had the phenomenal courage to act on her beliefs, and went on to have the Dauphin, Charles VII, crowned king in Reims and to lead the French in battle against the British. Though many of her prophecies continued to come true, successfully recapturing strategic towns such as Orleans and renewing the failing spirit of the French people, she was constantly beleaguered by those who refused to be led by a woman. She was betrayed and captured by the Burgundians, sold to the English, and put on trial, facing an oppressive inquisition of lawyers, clergymen and bureaucrats. She had turned the tide of the British invasion into France, but the Dauphin who owed her his crown did nothing. In 1431, at the age of 19, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. In 1920 she was canonized by Pope Benedict XV.
A failed priest tried his hand at painting at 28. He was told he was too old and had no talent. After two years at art school he was still unable to grasp perspective. He painted like no one else, lived like no one else, and was considered a failed, miserable eccentric. His love was unrequited and he often lived alone. He only sold one painting in his lifetime. Yet through the most miserable times, Vincent van Gogh still had a connection with the beauty and possibilities of life, still lived with passion, and continued to paint. After his death and his brother Theo’s death just months later, it was Theo’s widow, Johanne van Gogh, who safeguarded his artwork and his letters. Today he is considered a genius; his art is considered brilliant and virtually priceless.
Cinderella: lyrics from the musical
by Rodgers & Hammerstein
Fairy Godmother: Cinderella?
Cinderella: Who are you?
Fairy Godmother: I’m your fairy godmother.
Cinderella: How beautiful you are.
Fairy Godmother: I’m made of all of your most beautiful hopes and dreams and wishes.
Cinderella: Oh, Fairy godmother, I have only one wish just now…. to go to the ball…. and I know it is impossible.
Fairy Godmother: Impossible? Bah, what’s a fairy godmother for?
Cinderella: To make my wish come true?
Fairy Godmother: If you wish it hard enough. Now let me see you’ll need a coach, and four horses, and a coachman, and a groom.
Cinderella: Is it possible to get those things by wishing for them?
Fairy Godmother: Well, the sensible people of this world will say (sung) Fol-de-rol and fiddle dee dee and fiddley faddley foddle all the wishes in the world are poppy cock and twoddle.
Cinderella: (spoken) Aren’t they?
Fairy Godmother: Not always. The sensible people will also say (sung) Fol-de-rol and fiddle dee dee and fiddley faddley foodle all the dreamers in the world are dizzy in the noodle.
Cinderella: (spoken) And aren’t they?
Fairy Godmother: Not always, especially when there is someone who loves you to help you. Now, to work. For a coach I believe I see a pumpkin over there– that’ll do very nicely.
Cinderella: A pumpkin?
Fairy Godmother: I see you have four pet mice in a cage… they’ll do very nicely for the horses
Cinderella: Mice? For horses?
Fairy Godmother: Mm hmm.. Now let me see, something’s peering at us from under that shrub, oh yes, it’s a fine fat rat with whiskers, and his brother they’ll do very nicely for the coachman and the groom.
Cinderella: Oh, dear Fairy Godmother it all seems so impossible!!
Fairy Godmother: Impossible for a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage. Impossible for a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage.
And four white mice will never be four white hourses. Such fol-de-rol and fiddle dee dee of courses. Impossible! But the world is full of zanies and fools who don’t believe in sensible rules and won’t believe what sensible people say..
Both: And because these daft and dewey eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes impossible things are happening every day!
Fairy Godmother: Impossible!
Cinderella: And remember how very very hard I am wishing!
Fairy Godmother: Impossible for a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage.. Impossible for a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage. And four white mice will never be four white horses..
Cinderella: They will!!
Fairy Godmother: Such fol-de rol and fiddle dee dee of courses Impossible!
Cinderella: But the world is full of zanies and fools who don’t believe in sensible rules and won’t believe what sensible people say
Both: And because these daft and dewey eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes impossible things are happening every day.
Fairy Godmother: Look!
Cinderella: Oh, oh, it is a golden coach, and four white horses and a coachman and a groom.
Fairy Godmother: You are going to the ball
Cinderella: Oh, oh my clothes
Fairy Godmother: Oh dear of course how thoughtless of me. THERE!!
Cinderella: Oh Fairy Godmother how beautiful!! I am dressed like a princess.
Fairy Godmother: And here are your slippers.
Cinderella: They’re made of glass
Fairy Godmother: Put them on
Cinderella: They fit perfectly!
Fairy Godmother: Now! You are ready for the ball. But there is one thing you must remember. You must leave before the stroke of midnight, for the magic will last no longer.
Cinderella: : I will remember. Oh fairy godmother how wonderful it all is!!
Cinderella: It’s possible for a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage. It’s possible for a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage. Fairy Godmother: And four white mice are easily turned to horses. Such fal de rah and fiddle dee dee of courses Quite possible!
Both: It’s possible!
Cinderella: For the world is full of zanies and fools who don’t believe in sensible rules and won’t believe what sensible people say
Both: And because these daft and dewey eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes, Impossible things are happening every day.
Cinderella: It’s possible
Fairy Godmother: It’s possible
Cinderella: It’s possible
Fairy Godmother:It’s possible
Cinderella: It’s possible
Fairy Godmother:It’s possible
Both: It’s possible!!