I do not know yet what that can be
A few weeks ago, at the MIT “Mysterious Book Exchange,” I picked up a mystery book wrapped in brown paper. When I opened it, I discovered an old, battered copy of Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney.
Miss Rumphius is a short picture book about a woman, Alice Rumphius, who is charged by her grandfather with making the world more beautiful. She discovers over the course of her life how she can do so—and then, when the time is right, she figures it out and does it.
I’ve been marveling at Alice Rumphius all month.
I think, when I look back on my graduate school experience, it will always be colored by guilt. I feel steeped in resources here at MIT—and wonderful, supportive advisors, and fellowships, and colleagues—but what am I doing with it all? Three years into my PhD, the world feels no less rotten than when I started. Day after day as I do my work, I feel like I’m wasting not only my own time, but also the resources others have invested in me. I love the research I do and the ideas I get to play with. But my education and my growing expertise feel detached and unnecessarily indulgent in the face of the war, injustice, and suffering I see around me.
I know abstractly that this is not quite fair. This experience is giving me skills, friends, and (let’s face it) credibility that will serve me well in the future. I do not need to solve everything right now—preparation is important, too.
But I worry that I will think the same in five years, and ten, and fifty. That I will never work out the ways in which the world needs what I have to offer.
Which is why Miss Rumphius brings me to tears. I’d like to make this world of ours a better, gentler, kinder, and yes, more beautiful place. But I do not know yet what that can be, and maybe that’s okay.