Archive | Heroes RSS feed for this section

Waiting for the biopsy results

26 Feb Some things are too scary for words. And can be found at Home Depot. (photo by Alexandra HH)
Some things are too scary for words. And can be found at Home Depot. (photo by Alexandra HH)

Some things are too scary for words. And can be found at Home Depot. (photo by Alexandra HH)

It is 12:56. And I am waiting to find out the results of my latest biopsy. This is such a familiar feeling. Unfortunately. What is it like out to find out if your future will be scrambled? At this point, I have had so many biopsies that haven’t been actual cancer (though a number have yielded results dangerous enough to require surgery and I am permanently in a high risk zone) that I have developed certain coping skills that get me through the waiting periods and the painful tests without too much emotional scarring. I have cultivated a certain pleasant blankness that includes focusing on the moment I’m living in and doing whatever little task I have at hand, and cutting myself off from making long range plans. It is only sometimes, at unexpected moments, when the darkness completely eclipses the light and I start to sob and shake so hard that I don’t even know what I’m afraid of—is it the helplessness? is it the pain? Is it death? Or is it being tortured to death? I sob and my poor husband stands by, thinking he’s not being helpful when really, he is. By not running away, by witnessing my sadness, he most definitely is. And then, I stop, and we watch Downton Abbey, and try to figure out if Lady Mary is enigmatic or just kind of a bitch.

 

No biopsy will ever be as bad as the first one—until I get the one, which I no doubt will, which will let me know that the game is up and cancer is here. The first biopsy was the worst because my children were young. I could not get over the terror that I was about to betray them by dying. I felt myself not to be an individual so much as a figurehead. I was Mother. And I felt that I could not let them be un-Mothered. They needed to trust that I would be, at very least, alive. I remember so clearly feeling as if I were behind glass, watching the rest of the world go through its busy motions. Sounds felt muffled. Even my beloved husband could not reach me. Other people were alive and I was somewhere between alive and dead, in a very special zone that normal people didn’t belong to and should never see.

 

It is 2:00 now. The results are supposed to be here, I’m supposed to get a call. I’ve been calm. I’ve been busy. I made phone calls and emails. But now, the sky feels heavy, as if it’s crushing down on me with extra gravity. Ring, phone. Just tell me. Just tell me what my future is going to be. I’ve waited long enough. Just tell me now.

Writing Prompt: How have you learned to cope with potentially scary news?

Advertisements

I Love New Jersey: Cold State, Warm Hearts, Part 2

18 Feb
Orlando and Joe, my heroes, putting gas in my car on a freezing cold day.

Orlando and Joe, my heroes, putting gas in my car on a freezing cold day.

Having a Prius is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it gets amazing mileage—45 miles a gallon or so. So you don’t have to think about filling up the gas tank all the time. On the other hand, a person CAN forget to put gas in the car at all. I mean, last time I looked at the gas gauge, the tank full. Now, mysteriously, a week or two later, I realized that the “empty” light was flashing. This is while I was driving on the Garden State Parkway. I wasn’t too alarmed at first, but then I realized that when I pushed down the gas pedal, the response was getting weaker and weaker. Fortunately, my exit was coming up. And when I got onto Route 3, I was able to coast down a long hill, which recharges the battery a little bit. I kept my foot off the gas pedal as I got off at the first exit, rolled along very slowly, turned right to the plaza that contains my health club and tried to turn right into the parking lot, where at least I could dig out my cell phone from somewhere and call Triple A. But just as I started turning right, while my car was at an angle, it stopped dead. It was DONE. A couple of people waited and fumed behind me, even though I put my emergency blinkers on me. Then they slowly made their way around me, giving me nasty “What’s your problem” looks. But the third car stopped and a young man and woman jumped out. “I’m sorry! I’m out of gas!” I said, for the third time.

“We know,” the young man said. “We’re going to help you.” The young woman—Jaclyn—started directing traffic, and the young man, Joe, started pushing me back—I was so rattled that Joe was actually steering the wheel WHILE pushing. And then, a security truck came up. Two nice-looking men jumped out. They helped direct the flow of traffic and push the car, too, into an empty spot in the other direction. I was looking for my damned cell phone to find Triple A’s number when Joe and Jaclyn said “We’re going to go get her some gas.” –there was a gas station almost but not quite within my ability to get there. The young couple didn’t ask me for cash (I only had credit cards anyway, but they didn’t even ASK!). Anyway, the two security guards said, “We’ll take her in the truck.” At this point, Jaclyn and Joe shook my hands while I thanked them from the bottom of my heart. Honestly, they were amazing. I wish I could do something more for them. But they wouldn’t even tell me their last names!

Orlando, the security officer, and his colleague, also named Joe, were just as nice. They took me to the gas station, helped me buy a gas can and get a few gallons of gas. They came back and put it into the car for me. Which is super nice, because a. it was freezing, and b. I wouldn’t know how to do it anyway. Then they followed me to another, better gas station where I filled my hungry Prius to the brim. Only when my tank was full did they drive off with a friendly wave. I don’t know how to express my appreciation except to say loudly right here and now to Orlando and Joe’s bosses at the Promenade Shops mall in Clifton, New Jersey, “Hey, bosses! You have some very decent guys working for you! Give Orlando and Joe a big raise!”

Writing Prompt: Did a stranger ever go out of his or her way for you?

25 Things for Which I’m Grateful Today, May 8, 2014

8 May

 

Image

Cobalt Blue! Gold! Beautiful! Dome of the Chain in front of the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. (in public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Some experts say that gratitude keeps you healthy/successful/happy/wise/and even non-genocidal. We all know that, right? Oh, okay, I’ll use some quotations, in lieu of proving point properly:

“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say thank you?” –William Arthur Ward.

“The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.” ―Henry Ward Beecher

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

There. Satisfied? So, I’m going to give gratitude a spin today. I’m going to try to feel the small and large pleasantness of my individual life, lived in the very place and moment where I am. If you have a few minutes, or a piece of paper and a pen to start a list that you can return to, maybe you can make a list of a few things you feel grateful for today, too. After all, it’s the only May 8, 2014, we will ever have, right?

Today I am grateful for:

  1. The sound of birds outside my window.
  2. The soft freshness of the air.
  3. How my husband, Brian, put my new Triple A card in my wallet for me.
  4. How much my son Moses made me laugh at dinner last night.
  5. How hard my son Jacob is working up in Maine, and how bravely he is learning to take care of myself.
  6. How we will get to take a vacation in Maine this summer.
  7. How I will get to start filling out paperwork so that we can renovate our kitchen.
  8. That I have my own room, now that Jacob is in Maine, for dreaming, making art, and writing in.
  9. That I am reading four books at the same time and they’re all good.
  10. That I don’t have any lost library books at the moment.
  11. I finished my daily quota of writing for my novel (600 words).
  12. I have almost finished my quota of walking for the week, so anything extra will be bonus.
  13. I talked to my sister yesterday and she was funny.
  14. I met a woman who was the former librarian for the National Enquirer the other day, and when I asked her what it was like, she said, “It was like working in a Victorian whorehouse,” which made me laugh. And then when I told my husband, he said, “What’s a Victorian whorehouse like?” and I laughed more. Plus, I was glad he didn’t know what a Victorian whorehouse is like.
  15. Oatmeal with hot milk, banana, and sugar.
  16. Chai tea with milk and sugar.
  17. Walking with my friend Heba and learning that there is a word in Arabic that sounds exactly like the Hebrew word Tzedakah (charity) and means something very similar.
  18. Feeling sad for my friend Kathy Wilmore, whose mother died, but also glad, because Kathy was such a good daughter to her and so unselfish and honorable. I feel proud of having Kathy for a friend.
  19. The weekly summit at the Chit Chat diner with Julie.
  20. The feeling that it is important to feel peaceful and that, as my mother says, “You don’t have to prove anything.”
  21. The new things I am learning about the brain from the MOOC I am taking on Coursera. Such as how some neurons pass through the meninges from the Central Nervous System to the Peripheral Nervous System.
  22. Cobalt blue. Such an amazing color.
  23. Fantasizing about ways I want to decorate my Room of My Own.
  24. The fact that I actually got up the nerve to go to a Meetup from Meetup.org on making Art Cards and had two hours of fun creating with a group of other women this week.
  25. That I went to an essay writing group my friend Toby recommended and I had the nerve to read an essay I had just written, and got some good suggestions.

Writing Prompt: I dare you to squeeze out 25 things you’re grateful for today.

Is Evil Banal? Part 1

19 Jun

Strangely enough, nobody else seemed too eager to join me to see the new movie Hannah Arendt. Go to a movie about a philosopher’s musings on the nature of evil? What a laff riot! And action! Can’t wait for the special effects! But it was one of the best movies I have ever seen. It was dramatic, lively, and so full of ideas that I found myself writing down sentences in the darkness of the theater.

Jewish-German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt coined the term “the banality of evil” when she covered the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem for the New Yorker and later a book. I was very curious about this idea. As a card-carrying member of the Formerly Bullied Club, I have experienced my own small measure of evil, and from my point of view, “banality” doesn’t cover the sheer spiteful glee my tormentors used toward me. I made it out of the leafy suburb where I was bullied alive and well, and although I don’t think bullying =Holocaust, it’s important to remember that the cruelty of bullying can be fatal. A few days ago, a 12-year-old beauty, Gabrielle Molina, hanged herself on a ceiling fan at home in Queens, New York, after months of harassment.

Therefore I was very interested in—and somewhat dismissive of—the idea of how Hannah Arendt could find the idea of evil as banal. But it was much more complex than that. It was complex because much of her thought was formed by philosopher Martin Heidegger, her teacher and lover, who became an active member of the Nazi Party and never publically renounced his connection to it. But was the part of him that allowed him to become of the 20th century’s most influential philosophers the same part of him that allowed him become a Nazi? Can brilliant people also be stupid in other areas of their lives? I ask that question sincerely because I don’t yet understand enough of Heidegger to make a judgment on that point. Would Arendt—who had suffered as a prisoner in a Nazi camp herself—be compromised by that association, or would there be a part of his thinking that could form a useful substructure or framework for thinking for his most brilliant students, such as Hannah Arendt?

The film shows Arendt’s happy life in New York, rich in friends, love, and work. However, the substance of the movie is about Arendt’s coverage of the famous trial of Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann managed many of the logistical elements of how to send Jews to concentration camps, and had escaped to Argentina after World War II, until he was captured by Mossad operatives and brought to trial in Jerusalem in 1960. The film shows real footage of the trial interspersed with Arendt’s (as played by brilliant German actress Barbara Sukowa) reactions to it. In conversation and thought she wrestles with the idea of how a mediocre man such as Eichmann, who would readily admit to making bureaucratic decisions about (I believe) the number or schedule of trains that were being sent off to death camps, but who would take no responsibility for where they went—“That was another department.” And, as he had pointed out,he had taken an oath to follow Hitler and “an oath is an oath.” Furthermore, as in the Nuremberg Trials, he had not broken any laws—at least, the laws of his own nation at the time. In fact, he had followed the law with enthusiasm. What right, he asserted, did Israel have to try him?

For more, see part 2.

Writing Prompt: Do you think it’s fair to try people for war crimes if they were legal at the time? And how do you think a truly brilliant thinker could be caught up in Nazism?

Review: Long Island Railroad Massacre: 20 Years Later

30 May

Last night, a friend took me to a screening of a movie like no other. Called Long Island Railroad Massacre: 20 Years Later, it contains interviews with victims of the tragic precursor of what would be so many inexplicable and tragic mass shootings in the past twenty years. [Its webite is http://www.lirrmassacre.com].
The movie begins with scenes of the train, going through urban and suburban neighborhoods—a scene similar to what hundreds of thousands go through every day. For some people, December 7, 1993, was an ordinary day at work. For others, it was just by chance that they took what became known as “the 5:33.”
Some read papers, others daydreamed, briefcases on laps, when, suddenly, according to one survivor, he heard four pops. People turned around and saw that a gunman had shot the person across from them. There was a mad scramble to exit the car-except for those who had tried hiding under their seats. Anyone who has commuted on a train knows how heavy the doors are, how narrow the platforms are between cars, how difficult it is to move. The gunman, later identified as Colin Ferguson, an embittered immigrant from an upper-middle class Jamaican home, hated whites, Asians, and conservative blacks—had time to go back to his seat to get another of the four magazines he brought with him. One woman, who was shot three times, prayed for life—but after the third shot she stopped praying. She was afraid of getting shot again and didn’t know if she wanted to live through that pain. Another woman, seven and a half months pregnant, was shot in the chest and feared for her baby’s life as well as her own. Another man remembers being spattered by the blood and worse of a young woman named Maria, shot in the head.
Family members spoke out, too. One man said, (and please forgive my memory if I get this or any other detail wrong—it was very emotional), something like, “Hey, I’m Italian. I think I’m a tough guy—I say, Bring It On. But there I was, holding my briefcase in front of my face. I couldn’t control anything.” This revelation shattered his pride, his sense of meaning, and took years to recover from. And yet, I found his action somehow deeply reassuring and human. No one who got on that train was expecting to be Superman. They were probably wondering what was in the fridge, or about their kids’ softball game, or any of the ordinary thoughts that mortals have. I felt deeply for his humanity, and I am sure I would have done the same. People like to read about “heroes” in these situations. It satisfies some longing for separating themselves from the situation (oh the heroes will solve it, it’s not my problem). The fact that almost everyone reacted the way you’d expect people to act when you shoot at them (run or hide) means that they are more like you and me in ways we can’t avoid.
The movie shares the perspective of police and medical workers, of the defense lawyer that the barely-sane Ferguson fired, and details the ludicrous farce of a trial where the guman, acting as his own lawyer, had a second chance to terrorize and anger his victims on the witness stand. It also shows the aftermath of the events. Family members spoke with aching love about their lost ones. They also spoke how they fought to move on. The Locicero family, who lost their daughter Amy Federici, work for organ donation causes. Carolyn McCarthy, who famously became a U.S. Representative, fought for gun control. Mi Won Kim said that she went to a doctor a few months later because she thought she would have a heart attack—her doctor reassured her that her heart pain was normal for wht she experienced. Mi Won said that she neer felt her old heart was the same—but that she learned how to “grow a new heart.”
At this point, I should reveal that the reason I was able to attend this powerful and moving event was because I was invited by Mi Won Kim, one of my dearest friends. I hope to write more about her in the future. Twenty years ago, I was her boss. My memory of the day she called me to tell me the terrible news about her sister Mi Kyung is burned into my memory. And I was awed at how day-to-day Mi Won fought to survive and struggle for joy and meaning in her life and become the beautiful, strong woman she is today. Back then, she was so young—in her early 20s—yet she was her family’s representative to the press and to the world. Her victim statement was articulate, powerful, and less vengeful than mine would have been. I felt like the Italian guy who said, “Just give me five minutes alone with him!”
My heart ached for her and all the other victims. Their suffering and their family’s suffering was very alive to me—coincidentally, my husband, who works in New Jersey, was connected with the Locicero family and saw their suffering, too. In fact, I am embarrassed to admit that toward the end, I was so moved by spending time with these honorable people—dead and live—whose only crime was taking the 5:33 that I burst into tears, and sobbed till the end of the movie.
The director, Charlie Minn, has made a powerful film that speaks to the reality of what it means to lose a loved one—or to be violated by—a madman with a gun. While he works hard to avoid being polemical, it is impossible to avoid noticing how little progress has been made in creating a safer country with even the tiniest steps toward limiting access to dangerous weapons to madmen.
The film did not come out and say this, but I found myself ruminating about it as I commuted—yes—commuted—home. I wondered why people submit to full body scans and taking their shoes off in airports because they want to be safe in the air—violating norms of bodily privacy that once seemed unthinkable–but once they are back on terra firma, apparently it is unpatriotic to suggest that allowing almost anyone to have a submachine gun might be even more dangerous than a nail clipper or a 7-ounce tube of toothpaste might be on a plane.
As we live our ordinary lives, each society makes its own set of rules for life in the public square. I love the idea of providing the maximum amount of freedom AND the maximum amount of safety. If I had to choose one of the two, I think I’d choose freedom. But the right to do certain things in public is always constrained—walking around naked. Picking your nose. Painting buildings with graffiti. Napping on park benches. Even smoking! Can owning guns that can injure or kill 25 people in less than two minutes—yes, TWO MINUTES–that’s all it took for this mayhem to shatter so many lives—at least be up for discussion? Could we find a way to provide a reasonable amount of freedom and firepower for those who love guns, but also a reasonable amount of safety for everyday people, like the ones whose fates were so twisted on the 5:33 twenty years ago–or at least maybe an extra 30 seconds or so to run?
One brief note at the end of the film pointed out that in the half year since the Sandy Hook Elementary School last fall, 5,000 men, women, and children have had their lives cut short by guns. Long Island Railroad Massacre: 20 Years Later isn’t open for release yet. It is expected to come out closer to the December 7, 2013 anniversary. Sadly, by that time, they’ll probably have to change that statistic to reflect that 5,000 more people have died by gunshot.
Long Island Railroad Massacre: 20 Years Later isn’t an easy movie to watch. But it is a fine, deeply human film, and I highly recommend it. If you have a chance, don’t miss it.

Jana Gana Mana

30 Sep

Yesterday, at Toastmasters, the Table Topics questions section, (at which the Table Topics Mistress can ask a question of anybody and it is that person’s responsibility  to figure out a two minute answer), the beautiful Monica, who looked lovelier than usual in an elegant salwar kameez, asked questions on the theme of India. As part of her presentation, she played India’s  national anthem, Jana Gana Mana. This anthem was first sung in 1911, was made India’s national anthem in 1950, and has now celebrated its hundredth birthday.

Something was tickling at the back of my mind as I heard the anthem. And then I remembered why. It’s because it was written by one of India’s greatest figures, Nobel Prize for Literature winner Rabindranath Tagore in the early part of the century. Tagore had one of those brains which try everything. He was an Indian nationalist (especially Bengali) when most of India was under British rule. He was interested in art and music (writing more than 2,230 songs), science, read widely of the Western classics, traveled and met with famous people all over the world, started a famous school, and did many other things.

But there is one small, ironic story I want to tell today about Jana Gana Mana. The words, in English (Thank you, Wikipidia (http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jana_Gana_Mana_) are

Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,

Dispenser of India’s destiny.

Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab,

Sindh, Gujarat, and Maratha,

Of the  Dravida and  Orissa and Bengal;

It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,

mingles in the music of Jamuna and Ganges and is

chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea.

They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise.

The saving of all people waits in thy hand,

Thou dispenser of India’s destiny.
 victory forever.

The story is that some people assumed that the “You” that Tagore was talking about was King George V of Great Britain. But Tagore was disgusted by that idea. According to the Wikipidia article, he wrote in a letter to a friend, “A certain high official in His Majesty’s service. . .  had requested that I write a song of felicitation towards the Emperor. The request simply amazed me. It caused a great stir in my heart. In response to that great mental turmoil, I pronounced the victory in Jana Gana Mana of that Bhagya Vidhata [ed. God of Destiny] of India who has from age after age held steadfast the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved. That Lord of Destiny, that Reader of the Collective Mind of India, that Perennial Guide, could never be George V, George VI, or any other George. Even my official friend understood this about the song. After all, even if his admiration for the crown was excessive, he was not lacking in simple common sense.”

It would indeed be strange for a man whose entire life was devoted to Indian independence to call the British emperor “Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
 Dispenser of India’s destiny.” Certainly King George V WAS the dispenser of India’s destiny—but not forever! And he most certainly was not the ruler of India’s minds!

Here is a longish recording of all five verses. But notice how beautiful it is. How so many national anthems seem indistinguishable, but the music of this one is deeply and truly Indian in nature.

And Jaya jaya jaya he, to my Indian friends, Victory—and peace—to your amazing land.

 

Prompt: Have you ever had anyone COMPLETELY misunderstand what you were trying to say?

India’s National Anthem in 39 individual voices.

Bonita Stands for Beauty

29 Sep

I’m going to be short here, but did you ever have a classmate whom you thought was destined for great things? Or at least for being able to live out her dream? I am going to mention one such classmate of mine. Her name is Bonita Hyman and she is a delightfully prolific Facebooker. But what really impresses me about Bonnie is that I was always in awe of her for her musical talent. We had a wonderful choir when I was at boarding school, and she was always the star. When we had Christmas Vespers or Sacred Concert in the spring, (both occasions requiring astonishingly starchy garments), she would always be called upon to sing some thrillingly beautiful solo. She went off to study at Oberlin, if my memory serves me correctly, and now she has made her career as a busy opera singer based in Germany but traveling all over. My son was saying, “What happens to all the people who are really good at something when they’re kids and they don’t do it when they’re adults?” But Bonnie is an inspiration to me, because she really did it. She managed to build a life around music (and her obviously much-loved son.) I know that many of my classmates have her voice indelibly in their ears. So I am lucky to have found at least one little snippet of her busy career from Youtube to share below.

Question: What are you doing to live out your childhood dream—in at least some small way???

Victoria’s Secret

27 Sep

Today I was listening to the BBC and the announcer was talking about a famous Victorian scientist, Albert Russel Wallace, who developed the theory of evolution at the same time Darwin did. Well, actually, he developed it later, but Darwin had been working out his theory for years, and Wallace discovered it in what the BBC called a “Eureka moment” while studying nature on some South Pacific island. Their two findings were published at the same time in a journal, but as deference was valued in Victorian society, Mr. Wallace always deferred thereafter to Mr. Darwin’s discovery in what might be called an excess of modesty (and one for which he was certainly not rewarded). If my recollection from working as a book editor on a volume about evolution, the history is even more convoluted than that, with hints that Erasmus Darwin, an earlier famous scientist who was C. Darwin’s grandfather, was starting to get inklings of this theory and that the general perception of evolution was developing through discussions among a number of scientifically-minded people. Of course, this knowledge has been, as my dear ex-boss Hope says, “composted.” We edited so many books so fast that one week it was microbiology, next week it was Europe Between 1500-1800, so vast amounts of knowledge would just be piled on top of others and only the fittest bits would survive. (hmm. . . .)

Anyway, one of the things that fascinates me about Albert Russell Wallace is of course that he is a Victorian. And the Victorians were far from the prissy, staid wrappers-of-piano-legs that we often consider them as. They were vigorous, exciting, often thrilling in their willingness to entertain new ideas. Another scientist that I admired greatly for his understanding of glacier science, among other things, is Louis Agassiz. But Agassiz was one of the last holdouts among respectable scientists against the idea of evolution. Someday I will write more about him.

Anyway, a little more about Albert Russel Wallace:

–born in 1823, eighth of nine children

–In 1845 he read Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation by Robert Chambers. This book made him think that evolution could be real—but did not explain why.

–In 1848, he and a friend went on a journey up the Amazon to collect animal specimens and try to figure out how evolution might work. He drew a map of the Rio Negro that was published by the Royal Geographical Society of London.

–In 1852, he returned to England, but the ship burned and sank, taking most of his collection and notes.

–In 1854, he started an eight years series of travels to Malaysia and Indonesia for eight years, collecting 110,00o insects, 7,500 shells, 8050 bird skins (I never think of birds having skin exactly, but I guess so) and a bunch of other stuff.  He wrote a very famous book called The Malay Archipelago.

–In 1856 he visited Charles Darwin and told him to publish quickly or someone would beat him to it (actually, he himself had written his “Sarawak Law” paper, which was getting close to the secret of evolution)—so it was an extraordinarily generous visit, in my opinion.

–In 1858, Wallace had his “eureka” moment in Indonesia when the idea of natural selection came to him. He wrote a detailed essay and sent it to Darwin.

–Darwin had actually already discovered the idea of natural selection, so he didn’t know what to do. So the Linnean Society’s journal published both Darwin’s and Wallace in its August 20 issue, with Darwin first. Darwin also quickly finished up On the Origin of Species.

Wallace continued to be an amazing collector and authority of the region. What he is most famous for now (and the BBC mentioned this), is the “Wallace Line.” This line is drawn between certain Southeast Asian Islands and it notes where Australian-type animals (such as marsupials) live on one side and Asian-style animals live on the other.

Wallace wrote 700 articles and 22 books. And when he returned to Britain, he was one of the most famous scientists of his day, and also had strongly humanitarian ideas as well.

So why should anyone care about Albert Russell Wallace? One reason is that as courageous and brilliant as Charles Darwin was (and he was), he didn’t come up with his ideas in a vacuum. As with every great idea or understanding, it comes partly from some kind of collective upwelling—from some kind of community of ideas. And secondly, I think that the kind of curiosity and hunger for knowledge that Wallace represented, his incredible diligence and thoroughness, is also worth celebrating. Because although he was celebrated in his day, he clearly did not do his work because he wanted to be famous. He did it because he had that very special drive in him that is beautifully impractical and magnificently human, just to learn something new.

For more information (I certainly got a lot here) check out http://wallacefund.info/

Prompt: What is one thing in the natural world you’d like to know more about?