I realized that after a certain period of time, the memories that were so painful before aren’t so painful anymore. I think I’m finally learning the art of letting go. I look back at how things were, and I laugh, not out of spite or bitterness, but I laugh because the memories seem so distant and far away that all I can feel is heartfelt acceptance that we go through a length of hardship and that’s okay. We learn, and there will always be better days.
I was just a 17-year old kid from the Bronx with dreams of becoming a scientist, and somehow the world’s most famous astronomer found time to invite me to Ithaca in upstate NY and spend a Saturday with him.
I remember that snowy day like it was yesterday. He met me at the bus stop. He showed me his laboratory at Cornell University. Carl reached behind his desk, and inscribed this book (Cosmic Connection) for me:
For Neil Tyson,
With all good wisdom to a future astronomer.
- Carl Sagan
At the end of the day, he drove me back to the bus station. The snow was falling harder. He wrote his phone number, his home phone number, on a scrap of paper. And he said, “If the bus can’t get through, call me. Spend the night at my home, with my family.”
I already knew I wanted to become a scientist, but that afternoon I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become. He reached out to me and to countless others. Inspiring so many of us to study, teach, and do science. Science is a co-operative enterprise, spanning the generations. It’s the passing of a torch from teacher to student to teacher. A community of minds reaching back from antiquity and forward to the stars.
Poems are never just poems. They’re compensating for something. Here are the words I wish I had written in crescent-moon bite marks down your neck. Here are a hundred words for “stay,” and a hundred more for “please.” Here is how I hold a pen. Here is how the pen holds me. Here are my thoughts, over-steeped in empty fervor. Here is nothing and everything all at the same time.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.