Building a Bridge
A king gets help with an important project from a young boy. (10/2001)
There once was a King who ruled in a far away land. His name was King Two Sides.
King Two Sides ruled a land called Yarzach. This land encompassed many hundreds of acres of land, with two large lakes and a river that snaked its way between the lakes, dividing the land into two regions. Both regions of the land were beautiful in their own way. The regions were also very different from one another.
The King wanted to commission a bridge so that people could walk and ride their horses from one side of the river to the other and back.
This bridge was quite important for another reason as well: people from the two sides of the bridge rarely talked to one another. It was a rare citizen indeed who talked with both Northerners and Southerners alike. The King knew that the road to greatness for his kingdom was to have people from both sides of the bridge get to know one another, to learn from one another, to value one another. His bridge would take care of the physical problem. He was confident that he could take care of the cultural one.
Like all wise kings, King Two Sides had a huddle of advisors. Wiser than most, the King made sure that his advisors were all independent thinkers; each had his or her own background, values, and viewpoint. Some of the King’s advisors were from the North. These advisors, like most Northerners, valued art and beauty and harmony. To them, nothing was more important than these values. And, of course, some of the King’s advisors were from the South. The advisors from the South, like most Southerners, valued simplicity, logic and precision. To Southerners, these values were first and foremost.
Many architects submitted proposals for the bridge. Most submitted by Northerners were beautiful, lavish affairs adorned with precious metals and gems. Most submitted by Southerners were elegant in their simplicity and starkness. Hundreds of proposals were submitted over the course of many months but, alas, the King did not like any of the proposals that he had received.
The King was growing frustrated. Each design proposed was generally well liked by his Northern advisors or by his Southern advisors, but never both. It seemed as if things were at an impasse.
Then one crisp autumn day a young boy walked up to the gate of the King’s palace, requesting to see the King. The boy couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old, and wasn’t even four feet tall. The guard would have laughed and shooed the boy away if it were not for the boy’s seriousness and assuredness. Somehow the guard sensed that something significant was about to happen.
The boy was led to the King’s advisory chamber. He walked quietly between the two guards escorting him, carrying only a strip of paper in his hands.
The king entered the room immediately.
“What is a shoddily dressed young boy doing requesting an audience with the King?” boomed the King. He had been told of the boy’s confidence and wanted to test it immediately.
“Greetings Your Highness,” the boy began. He didn’t know how to act around a King, but felt being respectful was quite likely a good choice. He continued, “I bring you a design for the bridge that you wish to have built.”
The King said nothing.
“I am confident that my design is exactly the thing you are looking for to bring Northerners and Southerners closer together.”
The King again said nothing.
“I shall show you my design, then.” The boy made a quick motion with his hands, which twisted the strip of paper he held.
This time it was the boy who said nothing.
The King could not help himself. A broad, beaming smile spread across his face. He saw immediately what the boy had suggested. It was indeed the perfect design for the King’s vision of a unified kingdom, with everyone living in harmony.
“Tell me about yourself, boy. What is your name?”
“I am called ‘Mobius’, Your Highness.”
“And who are your parents?”
“My father is a Southerner. He is an industrial engineer. My mother is a Northerner. She is a sculptor.”
“What?” the King exclaimed. “A Northerner and a Southerner? Married? With a child? I have never heard of such a thing.”
“It is the only marriage of its kind, as far as I know,” said Mobius. “It is truly exceptional.”
“Indeed.” This from the King.
Mobius decided to tell the King more. “You see, sir, my parents are two of the few citizens that have crossed The River. My father built a small raft to do it. My mother made a large ceramic pot, which served as a boat. They met each other in this way.”
“Truly remarkable,” said the King.
“Yes, sir, my parents are remarkable people,” said Mobius proudly.
After a few moments of consideration, the King had decided. “It is decided,” he said. “We will build a bridge based on Mobius’ design.” After another brief pause he added, “And I hereby commission his father, the industrial engineer, and his mother, the sculptor, to built it.”
Mobius took his leave a short while later and ran home to tell his parents the good news.
– – – – –
The King sent for the boy the following day. This time, all of the King’s advisors were in the advisory chamber. Mobius had never seen so many wise men in one place at the same time before.
“Please tell my advisors of your idea, Mobius”
Mobius took his strip of paper from his sack and held it up to the men in the room.
“Notice that this piece of paper has two sides, much like our great kingdom currently has two sides.”
The king smiled at how well the boy had grasped just how symbolic the bridge idea was.
Somewhat impatiently, the advisors all nodded their heads, grunted in agreement, or both.
“But,” Mobius continued, “if I twist the paper while I bring one end around and connect the two ends…”
One of the King’s Southern advisors was the first to grasp what he had just seen. “Then there is only one side!” he exclaimed, finishing Mobius’ sentence for him.
“Precisely.” For the remaining advisors that still didn’t see, Mobius continued. He pointed to a point on the strip and said, “Suppose I start here and draw a line along the strip. If there are still two sides, I shall complete the line and one side will remain with no line drawn on it. But, if there is only one side, the line shall be drawn everywhere and none of the strip will be without the line.”
With one of the many feather pens on the nearby desk, Mobius drew his line on the strip of paper. None of the strip remained without a line drawn on it. He had demonstrated that the strip had indeed only one side.
“Do you see the significance?” the King asked his advisors? “One side. Two sides suddenly, elegantly merged into one. Just as we desire the two sides of our great kingdom to merge into one.”
It did not take long for the advisors to tell the King what he already knew. The boy’s idea was, in fact, exactly the thing they were looking for, and that the kingdom needed.
– – – – –
Mobius’ parents were quite proud of their son and the elegance of his proposal. They were perhaps proudest of all that he had the confidence to bring the idea to the King, and that he clearly understood the meaning to the kingdom of what he had conceived. The kingdom’s wise men had already started to call it the “Mobius Strip,” a name by which it is known even today.
Over the next several months, Mobius’ parents began the difficult task of turning their son’s idea into reality. And a difficult task it was. After all, the surface of a Mobius Strip effectively turns upside down. How could a person or a horse walk across a bridge that was upside down? Mobius’ parents struggled with this question for weeks. They enlisted the help of the King’s advisors and their village’s wise men, but to no avail. It seemed that however clever Mobius’ idea, it could not be implemented in the “real world.”
Once again, Mobius discovered a solution. It was reflected in the starkness and boldness of a question he asked his father: Why does the bridge have to remain stationary?
It took his father another day or two to realize the importance of his son’s question, and to put it into practice. While the King and many others would give him credit for the solution, Mobius’ father always suspected that Mobius had conceived of the solution, but was too respectful to simply tell his father the answer.
As is often the case, once the critical idea had been imagined – that the bridge should rotate around both its axes – building it was relatively simple. That said, it still took all of Mobius’ father’s industrial engineering talent to pull it off.
Once the design was in place, the winter was spent building the enormous clay blocks of which the bridge would be built. Mobius’ mother, with all of her sculpting experience, helped refine a technique for ensuring that there were no air bubbles within the blocks and that their surfaces were extremely smooth. Hundreds of builders and craftsmen were busy that winter building all of the bridges pieces. As each new piece was completed, the sense of excitement in the village grew. By spring, everyone in the land was eager to see the bridge about which they had heard so much.
After the last of the snow melted and the sun started to appear higher in the sky each day, it was time to assemble the bridge. All through spring and into summer, workers hauled the blocks, hoisted them into place, positioned them carefully and fastened them securely. Mobius’ parents were at the building site each day, overseeing the work.
Mobius himself stayed away from the work. Part of him was quite proud for having the ideas that led to the kingdom’s most important construction project. But part of him felt bad that so many people had to toil so hard for so long because of him. After all, here he was playing with friends, running in the fields, dreaming up new ideas and inventions. So he stayed away.
Through a clever series of gears and pulleys, a single man could turn the bridge using a simple, convenient handle. The King’s Minister of the Interior put a work schedule in place so that the bridge would be manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so that citizens could cross at any time.
At last, as autumn was settling in, the bridge was ready. On the day that it was unveiled, the King arrived wearing his most elegant purple velvet suit, carrying his jewel-encrusted scepter. He was going to be the first person to cross from the North to the South and back using the bridge.
After a brief proclamation, the King stepped toward the bridge, ready to cross it. At the last second, he called out for Mobius and his parents, inviting them to take the walk with him. Honored, they knelt briefly at his side and eagerly stepped into position just behind the King.
The King reached back for Mobius and grasped his shoulder. “Come up here and walk with me, young Mobius.” Mobius humbly did as he was asked. In just under ten minutes, the four of them walked across the bridge and back.
– – – – –
After the ceremonial walk across the bridge and back, the King made another brief announcement.
“It is important that Northerners cross into the South and that Southerners cross into the North. It is important that we all get to know one another and each other’s ways better. We will all lead richer, happier lives for having integrated our cultures, our arts and sciences, ourselves. The greatness of our kingdom depends on us growing even stronger as a People, a single, unified People.”
The bridge was thus open for all citizens of the kingdom.
At first, people were afraid to cross the bridge. They weren’t afraid of the bridge; they were afraid of what they would find on the other side. They worried that the differences would be too great, too difficult to comprehend.
Slowly, people did start crossing the bridge and people did start talking with others from the other side of the river from themselves. By that winter, the cultural integration that the King had envisioned had begun to take hold. Citizens from both the North and the South no longer referred to themselves or others as “Northerners” or “Southerners.” Citizens were simply “Citizens” now.
Not only did citizens begin to witness and understand the ways and perspectives of others, but also they began to value them. The lives of each citizen were not threatened by the various differences that existed; they were in fact, enriched by them.
The winter after the bridge was opened, and had changed things forever, the King made another proclamation. He had decided to change his name. From that point forward, he was no longer King Two Sides. He was King Mobius. And his namesake, the boy whose ideas shaped a kingdom and all those who inhabited it, was named his chief advisor.