Jim Schlatter was working for G.D. Searle and Co. on a winter’s day in December, 1965, when he accidentally discovered Aspartame. Intent on discovering a new way to fight debilitating internal stomach sores that day, the chemist’s focus was on combining four amino acids – a tetrapeptide – to form a medium through which to lessen the pain of these ulcers. And as fate foresaw, he smeared a bit of the compound on his hand while working.
Later that morning, before reaching for a piece of paper, he licked his finger for a better grasp. “Why do my fingers taste sweet?” he wondered while beginning to scribble notes. The doughnut he enjoyed for breakfast came hours before, and his hands had been washed many times since. He intuited the reason to be the combination of aspartic acid and phenylalanine methal ester he had worked with earlier that day, both of which, being present in all proteins, were safe to taste. Soon, he and lab partner Harman Lowrie enjoyed their discovery’s effect on a cup of coffee. Later, lab overseer Bob Mazur was called to verify these findings, ultimately casting him as the party responsible for seeing NutraSweet through its accidental, but sweet, start.
Chance can be unerringly sweet. Schlatter discovered a compound comparative to sugar while licking his fingers during a day of laboratory work. Historically, Benjamin Franklin found electricity while manipulating a kite in a thunderstorm. Locally (and more recent), I discovered a book was published with the same idea as Cybill Union after happening upon a lecture at a local bookstore. And I could not be happier – nor more proud – than to recommend Barbara Proud’s First Comes Love, an album of 65+ stories and pictures of pairs whose love for each other passed the ten-year mark.
Proud’s inspiration came before 2009, when the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) governed the United States. As written, it stated that lawful unions were restricted to men and women only, and that recognizing same-sexed marriage legally was left to individual states. Thus, driven to share the stories of devoted couples whose lives were affected by the law, she started her journey as author, historian, and photographer. The sum of her work – a collection of portraits accompanied by testimonials – is touring throughout the country, and was last seen in Delaware.
As one inspired to write the same style of story – and as one who has met a sample of those in Proud’s pictorial work – I cannot support her enough. These narratives are history itself, like those of our families. Her pictures are of people whose hearts are filled with love and respect for one another. Her commentary preserves a sense of who these lovers are. Recognizing this, I understand better what it means to share a writing interest, and that I, like Schlatter – who found fortune through sheer luck – am more confident knowing that these stories will endure in our human family collective.