I interviewed a retired professor yesterday. We were supposed to talk about his research. We were supposed to talk about how he shaped his field and impacted two generations of young scientists. We were supposed to talk about his hopes for the future. We were not supposed to talk about love.
But that is exactly what we talked about.
This man is in his late 80s and has begun writing his memoirs. It will no doubt be kept in university archives and read by individuals outside his department. This is the first time he will not have to write for an audience of other academics – the first time he will have to sound human. I guess it’s only natural that he left the science out of our conversation. He wanted instead to tell me about his wife.
He told me how he met her – as an undergraduate at a college back east. He confessed that he still remembered the day he met her – February 28, 1947. I could hear him smiling over the phone when he described their daily routine now and how it was in his days as leader in his field. And to be honest, not much has changed – she still doesn’t listen to him and he still doesn’t mind.
When I prompted him to talk about his students he told me a story about a couple that met and fell in love in one of his lectures. This was his great takeaway after five decades in the classroom. And this made me smile.
Sometimes I wonder how my life and career will unfold. I worry that it will never be what I envisioned or hoped for myself. I am afraid I will not contribute anything lasting; I worry that what I do will not matter to anyone besides my mother in the end.
But it is exchanges like this that give me comfort. Here is a man whose name and work will continue to be cited for decades after he is gone. He has been asked to write the story of his life so that he is remembered. He has a legacy that will be passed down through generations of researchers and not just his genetic code. But after a lifetime of work and recognition – in the end – all you really want to talk about is your wife. And I love that.