Thoughts by Richard Bleil
My dreams were kept in a series of old spiral-bound notebooks. These were my research notes. As a theoretical chemist, all I needed was paper and a pen, so every new research topic started with a new spiral bound notebook. I would fill them with references and notes from related papers, diagrams, derivations, thoughts, programming ideas, and as one would be filled a sequel would be started. Some of my notebooks ran eight or nine sequels, each page dated, each mistake kept legible, each one a dream.
When I lost my job as dean, I threw them away.
This is the cost of getting old. I didn’t throw away my research. I threw away my youth, my hopes, my dreams, my clinging to youth. There comes a point when you just realize that those dreams slipped your grasp, and now it’s too late. Some of those notebook series resulted in papers of little note or consequence, and some held revelations that will be known to nobody but me until somebody rediscovers them. I’m not that researcher anymore. I’m just an old man without the resources to bring any of it to fruition. It’s the way of the world, and I’m a realist. My dreams are dead.
I don’t know what other people held in their hearts. I don’t know their hopes or dreams. I know some people (and I would hope most) realized their fondest wishes and will pass on happy with a life fulfilled. But I can tell you that in their youth, nobody thinks about that day when they’re just too old. Too old to fulfill that sports dream, too old to have that wealth, too old to see the world, but we all get old.
Some might see it as a blessing. To grow old is to live a long life, but I don’t feel blessed. My grandfather immigrated here from Germany. My father’s brother had no children, and his sister had only one child who is developmentally disabled and will never have a family. I am the only son of my father’s, and I have no children. When I die, our short family lineage, and name, dies with me. And, yes, I’m too old to have a family, especially considering my current situation.
It’s far too common for younger people to look at their elders with contempt. With the rise of the “okay, boomers”, respect for the older generation is eroding quickly. Yes, I understand that my generation doesn’t have the respect for youth that we should either, but that old man was young once himself, and chances are he, too, looked at the elderly with contempt, impatiently behind them trying to pass on the sidewalk, yelling at them because they drive too slowly, complaining that they’re just too old to understand.
But those old people are facing demons that younger people cannot understand. In youth, everybody believes themselves to be invincible, but we’re not. We’re fragile, damaged, and we all face the inevitable decay of time. Every young person has dreams, and there is a good chance that many of those dreams will not be realized. There is a day, somewhere down the road, hopefully far in their future that it becomes apparent that some of these dreams of youth will just be, well, too late.
By now, my research is gone forever. The notebooks were recycled or composted or buried in a landfill by heartless machines that never for a moment considered that they represented a life’s work, time spent that was important to nobody but me.
I’ve lost so much in the past few years. My life has been laid bare, my value stripped, my essence drained. I’m guessing most people reading this won’t really understand the concept of losing hope for research, just as I’ll never understand the lost dreams of making it as a professional football player. But I do have some advice.
If you have family, take a moment to appreciate that, especially if you have kids. That is your legacy. There is nothing more important to leave to the world than that. And take a moment to assess your life, and what you want out of it. If you’re still young enough to do something to change your path so you can be more successful, then do it. Stop focusing on things that are transient and begin focusing on what’s important. Take the time to make your life important, to be that hero but not to millions of strangers around the world. Make yourself important to those people that really matter; your loved ones.
As for me, my dreams are out there, somewhere, being eaten by worms.