When I was a child, my parents redid the den walls in pecky cyprus. At some point they must have run out of one kind of the wood and had to finish the project with another. It bugged me for years that there were two different shades on the walls of that room, though I must admit that casual visitors never seemed to notice. I thought that such a mistake would never happen to the great people of the world.
But then I went to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and on the right recessed wall as you face Mr. Lincoln, in the etched transcript of the president’s second inaugural address, the engravers made a “typo” in the word “FUTURE,” and started to carve “EUTURE.” The blooper was easily fixed and barely shows, and indeed I take no credit for noticing it but was told about it by a high school chaperone.
Descending the steps of the memorial, my husband and I had a clear view of the Washington Monument, where careful observation will reveal that there are two different shades of marble in the 555-foot-tall obelisk. This occurred because the builders ran out of money in 1854, and when they resumed the operation 25 years later, they got marble from another quarry. It seemed to be a perfect match at first, but over time the two limestone materials weathered slightly differently.
At the post office the other day U.S. Postal Service was featuring a reprint of a postage stamp whose claim to fame is its mistake. Called the “Inverted Jenny,” the stamp, first issued in 1918, bears the (erroneously) inverted image of a Curtiss JN-4 airplane, and a single one of the originals was sold at an auction in 2007 for $977,500. Which goes to show that time and perspective are the saving grace of many a blunder.
I believe this is what will happen with astronaut Neil Armstrong’s mistake heard ’round the world as he descended the Apollo 11 module and flubbed his one shot in history at rhetorical grandeur. The first human ever to set foot on the moon meant to say before his spellbound universal audience, “That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.” In his excitement, Armstrong omitted the “a,” thus making the statement a head-scratcher: “man” and “mankind” are pretty much the same thing.
But that’s why pencils have erasers—because people aren’t perfect. Writer Anne Lamott writes in Bird by Bird on the necessity of compassion as foundational to the writer’s profession:
“The writer is a person who is standing apart. … Your job is to present clearly your viewpoint, your line of vision. Your job is to see people as they really are, and to do this, you have to know who you are in the most compassionate possible sense. Then you can recognize others. … You look around and say, Wow, there’s that … woman in the red hat again. The woman in the red hat is about hope because she’s in it up to her neck, too, yet every day she puts on that crazy red hat and walks to town. …”
“Put on … compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another …” (Colossians 3:12-13, ESV).
Or in other words:
“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man …” (James 3:2, ESV).