A friend of mine, Jochen Weber, whom I met at the first Heterodox Academy Open Mind conference, wrote this. I liked it so much I asked him if it would be OK if I posted it on my blog. He said yes. Here it is:
It happened very much by chance, and it was a profound experience, so I wanted to share it.
After waking up this morning I checked my phone and saw that a good friend of mine had posted the following tweet:
“A lovely story in a thread that will restore a little of your faith in humanity.”
Before jumping into the story, though, I would like to ask that you clear the next few minutes of your probably quite busy life. Please, if you can, take this as an opportunity to be touched, and to experience something that I believe everyone is looking for, and which we have forgotten where to find…
This is a story about love and loss, and about what matters most. (Here is a link the original tweet. https://twitter.com/garius/status/1204795961731629058 )
It is election season. The world is busy and rubbish. But it is also Christmas. So take a breather and let me tell you a story about London, trains, love and loss, and how small acts of kindness matter. I’m going to tell you about the voice at Embankment Tube station.
Just before Christmas 2012, staff at the London Embankment tube station were approached by a woman who seemed very upset. She kept asking them where “the voice” had gone. “The voice?” they asked. “The voice,” she said, “of the man who says ‘Mind the Gap!'”.
Don’t worry, the staff at Embankment said. The announcement still happens, but they’ve all been updated. New digital system. New voices. More variety. The staff asked her if she was okay. “That voice,” she explained, “was my husband.”
The woman, a GP called Dr Margaret McCollum, explained that her husband was an actor called Oswald Laurence. Oswald had never become famous, but he HAD been the chap who had recorded all the Northern Line announcements back in the seventies. And Oswald had died in 2007.
Oswald’s death had left a hole in Margaret’s heart. But one thing had helped. Every day, on her way to work, she got to hear his voice. Sometimes, when it hurt too much, she explained, she’d just sit on the platform at Embankment and listen to the announcements for a bit longer.
For five years, this had become her routine. She knew he wasn’t really there but his voice – the memory of him – was. To everyone else, it had just been another announcement. To HER it had been the ghost of the man she still loved. And now even that had gone.
The staff at Embankment were apologetic, but the whole Underground had this new digital system, it just had to be done. They promised, though, that if the old recordings existed, they’d try and find a copy for her. Margaret knew this was unlikely, but thanked them anyway.
In the New Year, Margaret McCollum sat on Embankment Station, on her way to work. And over the speakers she heard a familiar voice. The voice of a man she had loved so much, and never thought she’d hear again. “Mind the Gap” Said Oswald Laurence.
Because it turned out a LOT of people at Embankment, within London Underground, within @TfL and beyond had lost loved ones and wished they could hear them again. And they’d all realised that with luck, just this once, for one person, they might be able to make that happen.
Archives were searched, old tapes found and restored. More people had worked to digitize them. Others had waded through the code of the announcement system to alter it while still more had sorted out the paperwork and got exemptions. And together they made Oswald talk again.
And that is why today, even in 2019, if you go down to Embankment station in London, and sit on the northbound platform on Northern Line, you will here a COMPLETELY different voice say Mind the Gap to ANYWHERE else on the Underground. It’s Oswald. Merry Christmas everyone.
When I read this thread, and came to the last few paragraphs, I couldn’t help but feel tears welling up in me. And I felt quite a little stupid at first. I mean, come on… That’s such a sentimental and nostalgic story. Probably even made up… How come I’m crying about this.
But then I realized something, and it hit me with such force: this is IT! This is precisely what people everywhere are missing: a feeling of “I matter”, and “my husband mattered”, and “I need someone to listen to me”, and “I want to feel that I’m not alone in this world.”
You see, we have become incredibly good at figuring “stuff” out. Science and technology have transformed our lives into what would certainly look like a dream world to the people from centuries ago. But while doing that, we have also taken away something important from people: the reason for their existence. We are replacing what gives humans the necessary experience of their “reason to exist” with technology. Almost everything that humans can do, soon will be done by machines, and much faster, and with fewer mistakes, and things are going to be perfect! But are they?
We’ve been overlooking, for quite some time now, that humans not only need efficiency and things that enhance life. They also need to feel that what they contribute matters. And that they matter. And if they don’t feel that, they fall into a hole so deep and black that it can rip them apart.
When I look at the opioid crisis, I ask myself… Would this be happening for people who felt their lives mattered? Who felt that going through the pain they go through is for a good reason?
And when I look at people of color, some of whom are becoming so desperate that it sometimes happens they’re up in your face, yelling to recognize, “BLACK LIVES MATTER!”
And when I look at Greta Thunberg, who goes in front of the UN and yells, “HOW DARE YOU!?”
And when I look at Trump supporters, who go to rallies, willing to wait for hours, sometimes in the rain, to hear: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
It’s all the same pain. We’re all living in conditions in which we feel that what really matters is slipping through our fingers. For some it is a feeling that their very own private lives or the lives of their loved ones didn’t or don’t matter (enough). For some it is that they feel their entire tribe is being pushed to the side. For some it is a feeling that corporations are “taking over the world”, and we need to stop them. And for yet others it’s the sense that their contributions to this country can be dispensed with, because they’re finished.
So, the next time you have someone come up to your face, and demand that you listen, *PLEASE* do not ask them for evidence that their cause matters. Isn’t it obvious that it matters to them? They have all the evidence you need right there, Can’t you see their pain? You just have to listen, with your heart, and not with your mind.
Science and technology can make our lives better, I’m sure of it, but the price we pay is forgetting what really matters.