January 7, 1995
But Mousie, thou art no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice and men
Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief and pain
For promis'd joy.
Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But, och! I backward cast my ee
On prospects drear!
And forward, though I canna see,
I guess and fear!
Robert Burns(1759-1796) To A Mouse
It is the morning of December 31, 1994 and I am lying in bed nursing my usual New Year depression. It wasn't always this way. I used to want to celebrate; but this coming year is the year that I will turn 70 and, as Jimmy Durante used to say, "what a revoltin' development that is."
My thoughts turn to Kerwin Fingerhut. Kerwin was a high school classmate of mine. He was exceptionally bright and we all expected good, if not great, things from him. Somewhere during World War II, Kerwin was killed. The promise was never kept. I had the same lethal opportunities as Kerwin, but I was lucky and survived.
I wonder what our world would be like now if Galileo had died in adolescence, or Newton, or Darwin, or Mendel, or Faraday or Einstein, or ...... What if their parents or grandparents had died young?
Then I wonder what the world would be like if Napoleon, or Gengis Khan, or Hitler, or Stalin, or the Egyptian kings, or ....
By now, you are probably thinking that I am losing my mind --and you could be right.
Tonight and tomorrow, the tube will be full of what happened during 1994: who died, who killed whom. They will not tell us which important people were born, because no one has the faintest idea which of the babies born last year will become famous or notorious. Which ones will make substantial contributions to the future and which will die by violence or in a drug-induced coma.
Most of the events of 1994 that we think are important will be soon forgotten --and well they should be. Some people will remember 1994. They are the ones whose lives were substantially changed by an event: a death, a birth or a lesser event that is of no importance to anyone else. I will remember my concert debut as a singer --an event of monumental triviality. It is not likely that I will remember it for too long.
I reflect on my life as a journey through a maze. What lies around every turn is unknown. It is only when you have rounded that turn that its significance or insignificance will be known. Events may be triumphs or disasters, or, as usually happens, of no real significance at all.
My cat lies at the foot of the bed. She has just undergone one of the more significant events of her day. She has eaten two tiny morsels of toast and jam, which I have given her. That event has been repeated every morning that she has been home, for the last nine years. The past and future don't trouble her at all. She lives entirely in the present. She doesn't ponder the past the way that I do; she has simply learned from it. The farthest that she peers into the future is to her next meal.
I conclude with one stanza from my favorite poem, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:
The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
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