Nearly thirty years ago I worked at an MIT spinoff company populated by troll-like computer programmers. In the midst of these frogs was a beautiful blond princess, the treasured daughter of a WASP family in Maine. Despite the multi-decade interval, she recognized me at the Whole Foods in Weston yesterday in the mid-afternoon [note: Weston is one of Boston's wealthiest suburbs]. Despite being in her early 50s she was little changed: slender, beautifully dressed, perfectly coiffed. Her phone was full of photos of three healthy attractive children. I felt very happy for her as I watched her get into her Mercedes SUV. She had dodged so many bullets to get to this point in her life without anything truly bad occurring.
Today was unfortunately not as joyful. It started well when I gave an Antarctica slide show at my daughter’s day care center. One big difference between teaching 4-year-olds and MIT undergrads is that the MITers very seldom hug the lecturer at the end. The questions got fairly technical, though. One child asked how it was that whales were able to rise to the surface after diving deeply. This led to a discussion about buoyancy due to air inside the whale and the fact that the air expanded a bit every time the whale rose to a higher point in the ocean. Another child asked how were whales able to move forward when swimming, which prompted a discussion about Newton’s Third Law.
After lunch, however, I went to visit a 61-year-old friend who has been suffering with liver cancer (I lost a dog to this disease in 1991). He had been enjoying working and had planned to work until nearly the end, but a decision to try chemotherapy forced him to stop: “The side effects from chemo just destroyed my ability to do anything. But I didn’t want to just do nothing. Anyway, the chemo had no positive effects, which was the most likely outcome.” He was trying to stay home as much as possible: “Being in the hospital is horrible. They woke me up at 4:00 am once to ask whether I was sleeping well.”