Today is my oldest daughter’s birthday. Gianna is twenty-six. I’m proud of her. I’m proud of all my four children.
She’s working on her Ph.D. She’s a scientist. She loves lab work.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist. Einstein was my hero. I wanted to be a physicist like him, studying the universe. I was a nerd. I had a lab in my basement. I competed in math competitions, and won both times. I dreamt of being the next Einstein.
But I never became a scientist. Just couldn’t pull it off. Didn’t even major in physics in college, or any other science. It was an unfulfilled dream that quietly gnawed at me over the years. Went back to school to get a masters in math, but didn’t go on for the doctorate. The unfulfilled dream at times became a festering wound that never fully healed.
I did teach high school math and physics. Some of my students went on to graduate school, and I did interview Walter Kohn, a Nobel Laureate, a physicist who won the award for his work in quantum chemistry. That was as far as I got.
Now my oldest daughter is working on a doctorate in pharmacology. She researches compounds with possible applications to cancer treatment. I get to see my dream of becoming a scientist materialize in her as she does her work in Ann Arbor.
And today is her birthday. She’s making her dream come true, a dream inspired by a gifted high school chemistry teacher.
But most dreams do not come true, at least not how we might have thought. I never became a scientist. I did not remain married to my daughter’s mom. My daughter’s life has been no different. She’s suffered her share of setbacks. Same thing was true for Einstein. Even he had his challenges, like his mentally ill son, and his strained relations with the people in his life. He struggled for over forty years to come up with a theory that would unify the forces of nature. He never succeeded. He was considered a bit of a flop by many younger physicists as he aged, though he’s not viewed that way now
For a long time I was unhappy because I wanted my life to be a certain way. I wasn’t completely sure what it was, but I knew there was something missing and it made me unhappy. In Buddhism I would be classified as a grasping or greed type, always wanting more.
But I’ve learned. I learned to live more in the here and now, with what life offers, with the day-to-day. I’ve come to appreciate my life more than my idea of my life. Before I would argue with what is and miss it and not appreciate it. Now I see that the wonder of my life and my existence far exceeds any shortcomings I might imagine about my life. There is a hair’s breadth between me and Einstein compared to the distance between me being alive and me never having existed. The gift of life, whether mine or Einstein’s, is so staggeringly great and profound, that to lose sight of that gift by focusing on the differences between my life and his is like finding yourself at the most magnificent banquet table prepared by Merlin himself and wondering if your seat was as comfortable as the next guy’s.
You can indulge in that sort of thing if you insist, but it’s a sure recipe for unhappiness, even while in heaven. Now I know that some people suffer profoundly through no fault of their own, but that has not been my lot. Though I did my best, much of my suffering has been self-inflicted.And so, on my daughter’s birthday, my prayer for her and for all my children is not that they get the life they want, though I hope they do, but that they love the life they have.