Musings...

Robert Cotner, Editor

remember when I was 10 years old," the actor said. He looked at the child sitting on the front row a few feet below him and said directly to the child, "Is that about how old you are?" The child, intimidated to be spoken to from the stage at his first professional theatrical production, snuggled deeply into his seat and managed a slight shaking of the head. "How old are you?" the actor asked. Speechless, the child did not answer. His grandfather, sitting next to him, replied for him: "Seven." The actor smiled and went about his performance.

I was the grandfather; grandson Drake, the child; Ron Campbell, in the role of R. Buckminster Fuller, the actor. The evening was February 24, 2001. A little later in the performance, the actor would quote Fuller, "Every child is born a genius!" Firmly believing that principle, I had gambled that young Drake would respond to Campbell's masterful interpretation of one of the 20th Century's greatest human beings, R. Buckminster Fuller.

We arrived at the Mercury Theatre — the first Drake would visit — and we found our seats in the front row, just to the right of the center-stage. Then the lights dimmed, and the performance began. Within a few minutes, the actor had established direct contact with the child, and he maintained eye contact throughout the entire performance.

There were so many things I wanted Drake to hear, to experience. First and foremost, I wanted him to see a true master-performer at work in the person of Ron Campbell. He gave us a flawless and inspired performance. He brought to life the remarkable American, R. Buckminster Fuller, the grand-nephew of that great Transcendentalist, Margaret Fuller, who was a friend and confidant of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In a remark-able way, "Bucky," as he was affectionately known, was a marvelous fulfillment of Emerson's ideal person; one sees in him the inevitable flowering of genius as self-reliance is taken seriously.

It was in Chicago, in fact, in 1927, when Bucky, having failed at business and completely broke, contemplated suicide. He had his only mystical experience at that time. Through it, he launched what he called "a 50-year experiment" with this guiding principle, which came to him in the hour of utter distress: "You do not belong to you, therefore you do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You belong to the universe."

"A human being is a pattern of integrity," he discovered. What the individual can produce for his fellow man is the essence of integrity fulfilled. Love is, in fact, he learned, being attuned to others. Selfishness, conversely, has no integrity. And God is the ultimate integrity. Such discoveries, Fuller told us, come only as we unlearn everything and rethink completely ourselves and our universe.

"We start off by teaching our children to give up the reality of feeling themselves on the round, and try to get them to pretend to be on a flat, planet." We don't go up and down when we walk stairs; we go in and out. The sun does not rise and set as it would on a flat Earth; the Earth turns constantly, and the turning brings the sun to us for day and takes it away for night.

"Let's all stand up," the actor said. And we did; I stood facing Drake. "Extend your arms and close your eyes," the actor said. "Do you feel the movement? The turning?" This is the reality of the universe, and, as a small cluster of human beings in a tiny theater on the north side of Chicago on an evening in February 2001, we found a taste of reality and thoroughly enjoyed it.

"Is there a structure linking the physical and the metaphysical?" he asked us. We know there is, and we come to understand, if we're listening very carefully, that Fuller, along with a select few thinkers of his time, brought us face-to-face with synergy, as he called it. As a result of this unifying force, several things happen: we come to know that mind is the most important element of the human species: "mind is everything; muscle is nothing." We know that "war is totally outdated" on spaceship Earth. We learn this guiding principle: "do more with less." And, finally, we come to understand that everything is "incredibly beautiful."

I listened carefully throughout the production, and Drake laughed at just the right times. As the actor brought out the triangle and the tetrahedron, and illustrated the icosahedron and the octahedron, Drake was with him all the way. Toward the end of the performance, the actor came to the front of the stage and said, "I hear children don't like math in schools these days." He looked at Drake and said, "Is that so?" Drake, having found a friend in this marvelous actor, nodded vigorously and smiled.

"How was it?" his grandmother asked when we returned to our apartment. "Awesome!" he said. The gamble with genius paid off — for both grandfather and grandson.v

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  View a selected chronology of books by R. Buckminster Fuller.