Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Heavy Disappointment

(Image from Wikipedia)

I sometimes feel disappointment at not obtaining a university position in religious studies, but that's probably at least partly my fault for taking my own sweet irrecoverable time about finishing my doctorate . . . though even more due to my stubbornly following an unconventional path toward foreseeable failure.

Boundlessly worse, perhaps, is the disappointment suffered by one who has greater promise . . . yet blocked opportunities through no personal fault. David Harris, of St. Anthony's College, Oxford University, writes of his father's disappointments in "Secrets of a Disappointed Life" (International Herald Tribune, June 21, 2010). Sent off from Berlin at age eleven to an aunt for safekeeping in Vienna when Hitler came to power in 1933, Eric Harris found early refuge in science but had to give up that interest after the Anschluss in 1938. He never spoke of his scientific dreams to his son, David, who only found the remarkable documentary evidence of his father's scientific talent in a box left behind by his father after dying in 1998:
It contained a diploma, written in German. My father had been awarded an honorary doctorate, in 1975, by the Institute of Chemistry in Vienna. The degree was presented for his work at the institute from 1936 to 1938 on "synthesis of the heavy hydrogen atom." As he was born in 1920, he was cited for cutting-edge research pursued between the ages of 16 and 18!
No one knows, of course, what might have happened in Mr. Harris's life, had Hitler not come to power. He probably wouldn't have found opportunity to synthesize any deuterium outside of Vienna. He might not even have gotten involved in science at all. Or he might have started off in science but lost interest and pursued an utterly different path anyway. Or he might have encountered an unexpected barrier even absent the rise of National Socialism. Not one of us has satisfactory control over our lives.

I used to imagine that I could achieve anything if I put my mind to it, but that was before I put my mind to it and discovered that what I had imagined was, in a real sense, merely imaginary.

But I never had Mr. Eric Harris's genius, so his disappointment must have been harder to bear, though we'll perhaps never know since his son tells us that "about himself, . . . he said characteristically little."

Unlike me with my blog . . .

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At 5:05 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

I'm not quite sure how to take this post, which feels more like a wan smile than your usual fine-line combination of joviality and seriousness.

At 5:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, I'm not sure how to take it either. I guess that I'll just have to take it up with myself to find out . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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