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Life's Little Lesson on a leaning tower

Last week I received this e-mail:

I continue to enjoy your column. I read it in the Tennessee Star Journal. Your recent Happy New Year was not only humorous but your words, I will not say "no" simply because I'm afraid of what will happen if I say "yes" were useful, life enriching advice... Thanks for all you do, Walt.

Walt's note triggered the nerd nodule on my DNA and spurred me to think about the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Construction on the Leaning Tower of Pisa, originally planned as a vertical edifice - the bell tower for the city's cathedral - began in 1173. Designed by architect Bonanno Pisano, the tower, by the end of the first 5 years of construction, noticeably leaned to the south. Progress halted with only three stories completed.

I picture, and empathize with, Pisano, distressed, gazing at the aberration of his blueprint, ruminating over why he ever said "Yes" to the project that sagged with certain failure, tortured by the revelation, not to mention the monument-sized public display, of his inadequacies. Still, although he and his team quit, they did not give up. They did not raze the eyesore. They merely walked away in consternation, pausing to ponder a solution to the problem.

Almost 100 years passed as artisans considered the angled campanile. In 1272, new brains, fresh hands, set to work again, first attempting to bolster the foundation. Just as it had Pisano, disappointment beset this group determined to right a wrong. Yet, instead of throwing their hands in the air and cursing Pisano's name, they soldiered on.

The team added four more floors, gradually building straight up from the lower stories, hoping, one might suppose, to apply an opposing force. In reality, however, they created an ironic salute to the tower's original visionary. Their efforts resulted in an obvious banana curve in the construction, which would also result in a banana curve in how history remembered Bonanno Pisano.

As the tower continued to increasingly list, progress again ceased. No doubt, the latest craftsmen, like those before them, spent days and weeks, even months, reviewing their plans and recalculating the math, trying to pinpoint their errors, questioning why they said "Yes," when they should have shouted, "No, no, no," and run from it like they would a burning building.

Another century passed. In 1372, the bell chamber atop the threatening-to-tumble tower was assembled. For the first time in years, the slant slowed, and, for a while, in the centuries following, even ended. Over time, people came to believe the builders of the Torre Pendente intended for it to lean.

Later, during World War II, American forces, threatened by snipers, were ordered to destroy all the towers in the city of Pisa. With only one remaining, the Leaning Tower, they received a last minute order to retreat. Miraculously, despite the strange structure's constant threat to destroy itself, it alone was spared.

Pisano, and those who worked to finish what he started, would be stunned that not only is the Leaning Tower of Pisa still precariously leaning, but that it is also one of the world's greatest wonders, mystifyingly defying gravity. This architectural blunder, seemingly at its tipping point, yet strong enough to survive wars, weather, and time, proves that our biggest failures can become our biggest successes, depending on how we tilt them. Therefore, I renew my vow to never say, "No," simply because I'm afraid of what will happen if I say, "Yes." Imagine the banana curves that'll throw into things.

Thanks for the reminder, Walt.

(Lucy Adams is a columnist, freelance writer, and the author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson. Lucy invites readers to email her at and to visit her web site,

Web posted on Thursday, February 05, 2009

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