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They Say It’s Your Birthday

Celebrate the Life You Have


I am writing this on my oldest daughter’s birthday. Gianna is 26. I’m proud of her. I’m proud of all my four children.

She’s working on her PhD. She’s a scientist. She loves lab work.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist. Albert Einstein was my hero. I wanted to be a physicist like him, studying the universe. I was a nerd. I even had a lab in my basement. I competed in math competitions, and won both times. I dreamt of being the next Einstein.

John Luca

But I never became a scientist; just couldn’t pull it off. In college, I didn’t even major in science. The unfulfilled dream of becoming a scientist became at times a festering wound. I went back to graduate school to get a master’s in math, but didn’t go on for the doctorate. I did teach high school math and physics, and some of my students went on to graduate school in science. I did have the privilege and pleasure, too, of interviewing Walter Kohn, a Nobel Laureate physicist who won the award for his work in quantum chemistry.

And now my oldest daughter is working on a doctorate in pharmacology, researching compounds with possible applications to cancer treatment. I get to see my dream of becoming a scientist materialize in her as she does her work in Ann Arbor. She’s making her dream come true, inspired by a gifted high school chemistry teacher.

But most dreams do not come true, at least not how we might have thought. I never became a scientist. I did not remain married to my daughter’s mom. My daughter too has suffered her share of setbacks. The same was true for Einstein. He struggled to deal with his mentally ill son, and his relations with people in his life were often strained. Einstein struggled for more than 40 years to come up with a theory that would unify the forces of nature, and never succeeded. Though he’s not viewed that way now, he was considered a bit of a flop by many younger physicists as he aged.

For a long time I was unhappy because I wanted my life to be a certain way. I wasn’t completely sure what it was, but I knew there was something missing. In Buddhism I would be classified as a grasping or greedy type, always wanting more.

But I’ve learned. I learned to live more in the here and now, with what life offers, with the day-to-day. I’ve come to appreciate my life more than my idea of my life. Before I would argue with what is and miss it and not appreciate it. Now I see that the wonder of my life and my existence far exceeds any shortcomings I might imagine about my life. There is a hair’s breadth between me and Einstein compared to the distance between me being alive and me never having existed. The gift of life, whether mine or Einstein’s, is so staggeringly great and profound, that to lose sight of that gift by focusing on the differences between my life and his is like finding yourself at the most magnificent banquet table prepared by Merlin himself and wondering if your seat was as comfortable as the next guy’s.

You can indulge in that sort of thing if you insist, but it’s a sure recipe for unhappiness, no matter your circumstances. I know that some people suffer profoundly through no fault of their own, but that has not been my lot. Though I did my best, much of my suffering has been self-inflicted.

And so, on my daughter’s birthday, my prayer for her and for all my children is not that they get the life they want, though I hope they do, but that they love the life they have.

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