Wednesday, January 27, 2021

'Practice and Metaphysic All the Same'

What impressed me most was the mundane quality of the process. I left my car in the parking garage, rode the elevator to the twenty-fifth floor in one of the thirteen hospitals that make up the Texas Medical Center (the largest in the world) and got in line. The two women ahead of me were in wheelchairs. I gave my name and had my temperature taken. An unignorably pregnant nurse (it’s a boy) lead me to an examination room. I answered a few questions, pulled up my sleeve so the old vaccination scar was visible, and she gave me the needle. I told her I remembered as a kid getting the Salk and Sabin vaccines. She said, “Oh?” while putting on the bandage. I sat for fifteen minutes in an observation room. No projectile vomiting, so I drove home. I’ve had dental cleanings that took more time. I go back in three weeks for a booster.

Think what it took to get me there: Edward Jenner, Robert Koch, Joseph Lister, nine-year-old Joseph Meister, his benefactor Louis Pasteur and a thousand others. Each year, the American poet Edgar Bowers celebrated the birthdays of three heroes: Pasteur, Mozart and Paul Valéry. All suggest his admiration for minds lived at the highest pitch -- a love of science and its social uses, a love of art that is elegant, cerebral and orderly. Here are the concluding lines of his “For Louis Pasteur”:


“I like to think of Pasteur in Elysium

Beneath the sunny pine of ripe Provence

Tenderly raising black sheep, butterflies,

Silkworms, and a new culture, for delight,

Teaching his daughter to use a microscope

And musing through a wonder--sacred passion,

Practice and metaphysic all the same.

And, each year, honor three births: Valéry,

Humbling his pride by trying to write well,

Mozart, who lives still, keeping my attention

Repeatedly outside the reach of pride,

And him whose mark I witness as a trust.

Others he saves but could not save himself –

Socrates, Galen, Hippocrates -- the spirit

Fastened by love upon the human cross.”

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