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2006-01-31 - 10:50 p.m.

heroes are the ones who give you clarity

It's nearly 11pm, and I just got home from my first choir practice in about one year...I arrived at the rehearsal wound up in a stressed out tight little anti-social ball....and slowly over the course of the warmup and singing, I began to focus so entirely on the music that I forgot myself. I even smiled.. It was exhausting. :-)


Last night, after writing about Nick, I pulled out my clarinet and played a bit of Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major. This piece flows so naturally from the instrument - it feels obvious. Instinctive. It was my little homage to Nick.

Yesterday I mentioned another influential professor in my life, fleetingly referred to as "my hero." In college he was adoringly referred to as "J-I." This morning I received an email from JI. He had written the following:

"Earlier today I happened to listen to a recording of of my favorite pieces, a Mozart Clarinet Quintet. Can't remember the key, but Nick and I agreed the slow movement, with an ethereal melody high above the orchestra, will cause shivers to go up and down anyone's spine."

We had a convergent Mozart moment.


I should mention that JI didn't just write to me out of the blue. I had sent him my missive about Nick, wanting to let him know that I was thinking of him.

Do you ever have moments in your life that explode like gigantic fireworks of clarity - so brilliant and bright that the colors are imprinted on the insides of your eyelids and you KNOW that you are going to remember them forever?? JI inspired several of those moments in me.

Whenever I feel down on science, I just try to remember that clarity - when I poured over science papers in his class, or listened to his lectures and discussions where he stood, a slight wiry man staring out at us over his half-rimmed glasses with his eyes mostly closed, saying, "Science is just sooo sexy, students!"

And I remember that he was right. I felt my brain exploding with excitement - how he could simplify any theory, and bring us around to figure out the answers by ourselves. I remember the times he came into his lab (where I quickly took a job), just to tell me that I had written a solid paper, and that he was proud of me. It was as though he had handed me a roadmap imprinted with the directions to my life, and from that time forward there was no question that I was going to do what he did. (And I do...although perhaps ever-so-slightly less famously!)

Anyway, while replying to his email, I realized that JI is now an octogenarian. Amazing. Even more amazing is that he still takes a yearly ski holiday with his World War II batallion out in Colorado. They get together to ski up up a mountain where they trained together in 1941. He was a member of one of the first US ski batallions and was parachuted onto the side of a mountain in Italy during WWII (and into his 70s he never lost that ability bound from rock to rock, as evidenced on our geology field trips...!).

I asked him if he planned to go this year as well, and he told me that he was diagnosed with a lymphoma - cancer - on the day after his 80th birthday last summer... But, given that he has just gone off the chemotherapy, he plans to make the trip to the top of the mountain just as he does every year.

I realized that it's hard to face up to the mortality of your heros. But then I had another moment of clarity - another road map. I don't have aspirations of skiing up the side of a mountain when I'm goal is to walk the Pembrokeshire coast in my eighties.

In my reply, I told him that I wanted to hear about his successful trip when he returned from the mountain.

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