(originally run March 29, 2002)
We are only here on this Earth for a short time. It's up to each of us to make that time count. We feast at the table of life, we give it everything we've got, and we take from it every enjoyment we can. There nevertheless comes a time when we have to leave, and make room for someone else. But we still live on . . .
We live on in the lives of those we loved.
We live on in the memories of those we've touched with our acts of kindness.
We live on in every smile we ever gave another person.
We live on in the efforts we made to leave a better world to those who follow us.
We live on in every fallen person that we've helped back onto their feet.
We live on in our children, and in all the children of the world, whenever we've stopped for a few minutes to watch them play.
And when all is said and done, and we can say that we've made this world a better place because we've lived, and because we dared to make a difference, then we have indeed made our time count, and we are truly immortal.
On this past Thursday, March 21, 2002, my father, Nile Hale, passed away at the age of 83. He was born in 1918 in the backwoods hill country of western Virginia, and his family struggled as farmers during the Great Depression in Wisconsin and in Ohio. Three years after graduating from high school he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps -- through a morbid coincidence, on the very day that hostilities began in the conflict that would become known as World War II. He saw considerable action in the Pacific theater during that war. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 1960 he worked in the Civil Service, becoming Chief of Supply for Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico by the time of his retirement in 1979. He is the father of three sons, of whom I am the youngest.
It was my father who, while I was in first grade, at the request of my teachers that he create some outside interests lest I become bored in school, checked out some books on astronomy from the local library and handed them to me to look at.
It was my father who, one springtime evening a few months later while we were coloring Easter eggs, took me out into the back yard and showed me, for the first time, the Big Dipper, riding high in the northern sky.
And it was my father who, a few years later, after enduring a constant barrage of "Dad, I want a telescope!" "Dad, I want a telescope!" "Dad, I want a telescope!" relented and -- probably in an effort to shut me up more than anything else -- purchased for me an $80 telescope from Sears.
The rest, as they say, is history. A quarter-century later he watched the comet that bears his son's name blazing brightly in the nighttime skies of Earth.
There was another, ultimately more profound, way he influenced my life, of which he was probably not even consciously aware. During the late 1950s, barely a decade after the conclusion of the most hideous war this planet has ever seen, my father and our family spent four years living in Japan (a period of time near the end of which I was born). Despite the fact that he had once fought bitterly against them, I never heard him refer to the Japanese people as his enemies, or even as his former enemies; instead, he talked of them as his friends, and his words were filled with praise and admiration for them. His words instilled a desire within me to study about Japan and to visit it someday, a desire which I fulfilled many years later.
On an even deeper level, his words have inspired me to seek out friends and scientific colleagues in countries with whom the U.S. has not been on the best of terms, in an effort to initiate peaceful dialogue in hopes of eventually bringing our respective peoples together. Today my list of friends and colleagues, with whom I have shared news of my father's passing, includes not only scientists in Japan but also extends to scientists in countries such as Russia and Iran.
World events, especially including those that have transpired within the past several months, show that we still have a long ways to go in these efforts, and that we have our work cut out for us. My challenge to those reading this is to utilize the attitudes my father exhibited towards his one-time enemies, and which, consciously or not, he instilled within me, to make this world a better place for those who follow us. In such a manner he truly indeed will live on.
Tonight, in the western sky, shines the brightest comet that has graced our skies since his son's comet was visible five years ago, and which -- appropriately enough -- was co-discovered by astronomers in Japan and in China. A part of me likes to think that, as Comet Ikeya-Zhang departs the inner solar system, my father's essence may be riding along with it. And when it returns some 3 1/2 centuries from now, perhaps that essence will come back with it to see how well we're doing.
Meanwhile, tonight the Big Dipper once again rides high in the northern sky, just like it did on that springtime evening when my father first showed it to me all those years ago.
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