Thursday, March 5, 2009

Harvard Humility

June 29, 1996,

We’ve just come back from a business trip to Cambridge, Mass. We stayed in an old house called “A Friendly Inn” run by a Chinese family almost on the Harvard campus. Couldn’t have been closer to the old school. Dad was America’s representative there to an international medical standards group--the only American and the only non-doctor--to decide on the international standard for suction.

We took a tour there, guided by a Harvard Junior in English, who was absolutely certain Harvard is the only school in this country worth talking about. Their motto “veritas” (truth) apparently does not include humility. He also said that the only book saved from a fire in the Harvard library in 1856, The Christian War Against the Devil and his Hosts and the Flesh (approximate title), “Certainly didn’t interest him in this day.”

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I don’t remember when I have spent four such idle days. While Dad attended his sessions, I was left to myself. Most of the time, I walked the campus, the arts and science museums and the little downtown area known as Harvard Square. There are many old frame houses of all colors--mostly three stories high--and many picturesque churches in the area. I found the Cambridge Ward on Brattle Street. We were told Julia Child lived in the area and “many other famous people.” It was home to Henry James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Louis Agassis. The Longfellow house still stands. Memorial Hall at the center of campus has the appearance of a gothic cathedral erected to knowledge--beautiful stained glass windows, and a regular cathedral transcept in the center with marble plaques on its walls commemorating the Harvard Civil War dead. A large part of the building is a dark wood dining hall decorated with marble busts of philosophers and other great intellects. The exterior includes the latin learning of men mingled with scripture. In some bygone day, someone chiseled, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” over the doorway to Emerson Hall. I am not sure that is the sentiment of the current freshman class.

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