A scientist-turned-strategist colleague shared a New York Times article by Oliver Sacks, an NYU School of Medicine professor and author, with me and another writer over the weekend. He often forwards articles about genes, cancer costs, new discoveries--whatever might be useful for communicating with prospective donors.
As death nears, I am surrounding myself, as I did when I was a boy, with metals and minerals, little emblems of eternity.
His message simply said: Wow.
You should read the article--we all should, every year, every birthday--but to summarize: Sacks is grappling with his mortality, having recently been given a metastatic cancer diagnosis, and he turns to the concrete, enduring nature of the physical sciences for comfort.
At one end of my writing table, I have element 81 in a charming box, sent to me by element-friends in England. It says, "Happy Thallium Birthday," a souvenir of my 81st birthday last July.
I wrote back: All of this beautiful talk has put me down an internet rabbit hole researching Gallium. Looking for meaning on Wikipedia for my 31st year--this is what this job is doing to me!
Of course, neither of them know about this blog, where I have been searching for meaning since I was Iron (26)... which (I'm sorry, it's too perfect, it cannot be helped) is "in the first transition series." I refrained from making a Breaking Bad reference before I hit send.
Fabulous-and-Kind wrote back: Soft and silvery and not naturally occurring in nature? That does sound a little like you. And next year you'll be a semi-conductor!
I have carried a Joseph Campbell quote with me since I graduated college: If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be. (Fittingly, Campbell studied biology and math but found he preferred the humanities.)
I had the last sentence of that quote on my graduation cake, and I have always clung to it: I thought of the "doors" as opportunities, and if I just believed they would appear, they would.
And they have, my goodness, they have.
But this email chain also made me glad for the people these opportunities brought to me, and the ideas they have introduced: different ways of seeing myself, and my surroundings, and the world at large. The people that make me stop in my tracks with gratitude, who make me think via their thoughtfulness, whose belief in me makes me believe, too.
Windows, if you will.
P.S. Why Time Flies -- you'll want to check this out as well.