I had an interesting night yesterday.
It was not until 5pm that I heard about the school shooting in Connecticut. I was shocked, sad, and eventually left without words. To a point that I almost bailed on the other plans I had for the night – first heading to the Science of Poetry / the Poetry of Science event organized by my Banff Science Communications Program classmate Aileen, and then to a friend’s Christmas Party.
I am glad that I pushed on.
Science and poetry collided and meshed into something that truly resonates – the exchange between a cancer survivor with a cancer researcher, the vivid imagery of scientific experiments perceived, the desperation to maintain dreams and hopes on the never-ending path of academia. It was truly inspirational.
While I was waiting for the bus to head to the Christmas party, a man on a wheelchair asked me whether the bus is still coming, so I checked for him and assured him that the bus will be arriving in 14 minutes. In 14 minutes he shared what he went through in the past few days with me. He and his partner got into an accident and he had both knees operated on. He worked through the day completing invoices for a company to earn some money (he’s educated, by the way, because after knowing that I work at UBC he asked whether I know this law professor that he used to study under, likely through one of UBC’s inner city programs) . He spent the money on medications for his partner who was sick, a pack of cigarettes, and a calling card so that his partner could finally call up her son in Northern BC before Christmas – only later to lose the calling card while he was wheeling his way to the bus stop. He and his partner were so close to securing a single-bedroom low-income housing, except the owner refused to rent the apartment to them because the credit check was not completed in time (even though they had a notarized statement from a BC organization to confirm that they would be able to pay rent). So they now lived in a homeless shelter, 10 days before Christmas.
Yet he was extremely hopeful. He told me that his relative in Quebec should be able to send some money over to help out in the next few days. And, only because of all these challenges, that he and his partner had grown much, much closer.
When I arrived at the Christmas party the gift exchange had started. The room was saturated with happiness, togetherness, and much warmth among everyone. And even though I didn’t stay much longer and had missed much of the night, it amazed me that somehow everyone seemed connected, as if by simply entering the room you became part of this family.
And that was my night.
Perhaps it is the analytical or the logical nature of scientists that we sometimes forget we are human beings. There were many times that I worked on and forgot whether the last meal I had was a lunch or a dinner, and forgot why I kept going. And while I am not a researcher anymore, I am acutely aware of how many of my friends and colleagues spent countless hours in research, sometimes frustrated, exhausted, tired.
But then once in a while you have a night like this, and you are reminded that you can feel so much, and that there is much, much more to be done, and that our personal problems, in the scope of things, are so little compared to what we can do to bring more to this society. And it is a night like this that I know that I must keep going, like I did earlier last night, because you never know what you will find.
And it is a night like this that reminds me we cannot give up.
Postscript: If you are interested in reading more about the human side of science, about science and the society, see Artem Kaznatcheev’s post “Where is this empathy that we are so proud of” and Maggie Koerth-Baker’s post “What science says about gun control and violent crime.”