Friday, May 27, 2011

The Way We'd All Like to be Remembered

Today I had the great honor of attending a shindig for a church friend of mine. To call it a shindig might be a little modest. He was actually having a wing of one of the local hospitals named in his honor.

About a year ago my spouse and I found this church after a failed year long quest to find one of our denomination. We somehow ended up at this church and that has had a profound affect on our lives. About a week after joining the church we sat in the “wrong” pew. This elderly couple took us on sort of like we were stray puppies. We went to lunch with them where they grilled us on our lives and faith. We found out that she had been a school teacher and he a surgeon who was a founding member of a local medical school. Next we were invited to be in their small bible study. We’re the type to give anything a try particularly when such a respectable older couple takes time to get to know us. Turns out we are half as young as any member of the group but what a wonderful group it is. One of the group members has made it his personal mission in life to be sure I stay a university professor. Bless his heart some days it’s an uphill battle. This motley crew of 20 grandparents has become my church family. We share our ups and downs but mostly downs lately.

About six months ago my friend, the surgeon, was diagnosed with cancer—serious cancer. We didn’t know if he’d make it. They couldn’t remove all the cancerous tissue and he’s been radiated and chemoed and all manner of drugged these past few months. And physically he’s half the man he used to be. But he still has the warmest, friendliest smile.

Today I attended his shindig. Our entire bible study and both pastors showed up. We sat in a big group toward the front. There were 25 of us and we barely made up one-tenth of the crowd. I knew what kind of surgeon he was—a serious kind, the kind who get lauded for their work for the betterment of humanity, the kind who save the lives of good and moral people, the kind who give little Timmy a chance to see another day—but I had no idea who he really was. Turns out my humble, surgeon friend was a true pioneer in his field. He preformed the first four surgeries of his specialty—ever. He’d written books, had been on boards, had travelled the world receiving awards, had fellowships named in his honor, was written about in numerous news articles, and was talked about in bloody Time Magazine.

As I listened to all the speakers and looked around the packed room, I thought I should be so lucky that toward the end of my life I would be so honored and respected by the colleagues and friends. I’ll never have a building wing named in my honor. Probably none of us will. I’ll never accomplish anything nearly as impressive as what my surgeon friend has. When I am 80 in the shade none of my protégés will come out of retirement to regale 300 of my friends and colleagues with stories of my career and idiosyncrasies.

As I stood nibbling on petit fours, bacon wrapped whats-its, and shrimp from the oft refilled bowl, I thought it would be so nice if anyone in the academe would be thrown such a party after a career well done. As I watched the flutter of young doctors, who were my age, trying to get face time with my apparently very famous friend, I thought about how above and beyond this was to anything I knew. Never would I see this in academia outside of a medical school/hospital.

I have to admit I’m a bit green-eyed. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I realize how tenuous of a grip I really have on my career. Perhaps it’s because academia is so limiting and lacks the personal warmth of doctorin’. Perhaps it’s because I want to know that in the end what I have done matters. Perhaps it’s a little of all of the above.


  1. Screw tenure. I want to be honored with stuff wrapped in bacon like this guy was. That is awesome.

  2. And the raspberry punch ... it had fresh, frikkin raspberries in it.

  3. omg professors who believe in god

  4. @SchmittyRKD,

    We're here, we're not idiots, get used to it.

  5. @BB, I don't care if they remember me or not, as long as they remember the bacon. Who cares what it's wrapped around?

  6. It's a nice change, I think, to have scholars discuss a frank assessment of the impact we have in our students' (or colleagues') lives. Oh, sure, we may be a part of that "moment" when the lightbulb goes on and some complicated life-changing realization occurs. But in the end, an individual strings such moments together and calls it "life."

    So much of my department interactions are dominated by people explaining to other people how their work is so completely earth-shatteringly important that I get the impression they are trying to convince themselves more than anybody else.

    Good on you, Maths. This was a lovely post.

  7. If it makes you feel better, eventually all of humanity will die and nothing anyone ever did will matter.


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