I live and work in an amazing place, a nexus. Two institutions with which I have been associated in the last nearly seventeen years are chock full of brilliant people doing incredible things. And I've seen it up close. I've taken classes taught by Nobel Laureates. I've worked with people who by rights should be (are you listening, Stockholm?).
And everywhere you turn, there are stories, extraordinary stories. Stories of inspiration and persistence. Stories of tiny molecules responsible for big things. Molecules that interact with other molecules. These interactions are the stuff of life-- how things work or how disease happens,-- a change that causes a change, that causes a change. Some of these stories are old enough to be in textbooks, some so new they are under embargo pending publication, and some incomplete, still in progress. I go to class or to talks to hear the stories, or I stumble upon them as I dig through the literature.
I've admired these stories, for substance, but also for elegance. I've been impressed with the insight needed to ask the question in just that way, or with the enormous progress a person or a group can make in just a few years (ahem... rarely... more often, it's a long and torturous road). But not until last week did I feel personally affected by one of these stories.
As I walked back to my office across the darkened and subdued campus last week, the story I just heard kept reverberating in me. Not intellectually, or, rather, not only intellectually. Don't get me wrong-- the story's nothing to sneeze at, intellectually speaking. It's got balls, for it took giant intellectual balls to ask that particular question. It's got insight, for it took a boatload of that to pick the particular approach that ended up paying out so generously, plus another boatload to choose where to look. It's got elegance, for there was that in reconciling the new, beautiful data with the old, seemingly contradictory, results. And the resulting model,-- dayyyymn, but it's elegant.
But that wasn't what was rocking my boat the other night. I was surprised to find that I was literally buoyed, high as a kite on vapors of a promise. It occurred to me that if this story keeps unfolding as it seems poised to do, by the time it's my daughter's turn to worry about pregnancy and childbirth, one of the big bad things of today will likely become no more than "oh, that? They've got a pill for that now." A promise of less heartache, less hurt, less pain. A promise of a better world. A promise of a monster, a true honest to goodness monster, a killer, tamed. Put out of business. Caged.
I walked along, thinking. Thinking that unlike all these other stories, this one might affect my daughter, likely will. Her or one of her many friends. (Which, because she is Monkey, would also deeply affect her.) I had this feeling that one day it will be relevant. And for the first time in all these years I realized that one day I will be able to tell my children "You know, I heard the guy speak before they worked out the whole thing, but when they already knew X and Y."
And then I imagined how I will tell them about how bad it was, you know, before. Which brought me right the fuck down to earth, in a hurry. Because that before is now. Because the big bad is still out there, hurting or killing women and babies. And it will keep doing that even as all these researchers are working double time to get from X and Y all the way to "we've got a pill for that." More than that, I could suddenly see, feel even, that when the after is here, the women hurt by the big bad in the before will still be hurt. For them, there will not be much comfort in the fortune of others. For them that fortune might even sting, because really, why did it not come in time for them? Why the fuck not?
And I realized that, as in so many things, the after really can't come soon enough.