Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sri Lanka Diary #4. Viewing the clear night sky in Matara

It rained in the early evening, but now the night sky is clear. Standing on my beachfront balcony listening to the surf, I can see a multitude of stars but the constellations are, of course, unrecognizable. My freshman year midshipman cruise on the battleship USS Wisconsin came to mind. As the ship steamed north from Valparaiso Chile, other midshipmen and I would lie on the after part of the ship (the fantail) watching films and the stars overhead. The Southern Cross, which Magellan’s sailors viewed as an omen of their impending death, was often clearly visible. Tonight, I reflected on the ensuing years since that young man, 19 years of age, viewed the stars in the Southern Hemisphere night sky. I thought, “If I should die tomorrow, I would be grateful for the opportunities that life has offered to follow interesting paths, in many parts of the world, and to make a difference.” It was a peaceful moment.

Then I remembered the briefing notes on the dynamics of aging I just completed for a task force examining new research opportunities at Singapore’s National University. One slide featured men and women who had made major contributions - sometimes the major contributions of their lives - after age 70. One notable example, among many, was Deng Shao Peng, who did not begin the reforms that have transformed China until after he had celebrated his 74th birthday.

Clearly it is too soon for self-satisfaction. There must still be challenges and opportunities on the road that lies ahead, The must be promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

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