Today, a parable of change. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
A friend showed up last year
and asked us to take in a stray dog. We did. Then
change began. I started walking him -- modestly at
first, then more aggressively. I began losing
A few months ago we settled on a routine. Every
night, we walk the Bayou exercise track. A few
months ago, I could hardly do one chin-up. Now I do
30 a night, and I've lost over 30 pounds. The dog
comes back panting. My wife looks at me and says,
"This is scary. I want old pudgy-John back."
So what am I doing? Is this vanity? Is it health?
Is it catharsis? Am I looking for my lost child
along the bayou? Well, maybe. But one thing I'm
certainly looking for is change.
I have less capacity for change than I'd like to
think. Most of us do. And that's too bad, because a
capacity for change is the mark of a creative
person. George Foreman astonished us all with his
boxing comeback at the age of forty-three. That was
a triumph of the head as much as a triumph of the
body. Carl Lewis set the 100-meter world record
when he was thirty. What are my capacities for
change and rebirth at twice his age?
So I walk the quiet bayou and contemplate stories
of change. When he was forty, Albert Schweitzer was
an organist/musicologist. He was the great
authority on Bach. Then he gave all that up to
study medicine. He became a great humanitarian,
expert on tropical disease, and sometimes
J. Willard Gibbs first
designed railroad equipment. He took up science in
his mid-thirties. He underwent little outward
change. He lived his whole life in the same New
Haven house. But he laid the very foundations of
three scientific fields. He was just my age when he
created the subject of statistical mechanics. That
great agent of change gave Einstein,
Schrödinger, and Heisenberg the vehicle by
which they altered physics forever.
Exercise is clearly just a glint of real change.
It's a contemplation object. It's only a reminder
that the alternative to change is death. But
engaging change is a process of finding our
capacities, facing danger, and finally claiming
I have no idea where change will take me. I don't
especially care. If I'm alert to possibility and
risk, and confined only by principle, change will
take me to the right place. But my wife is right.
Change is dangerous, and it's always irreversible.
So, my good-humored dog -- my odd agent of change
-- walks the dark bayou with me; and I ponder the
same question you face. It is, what possibility
will I see today? What will I do with it? And will
I have the courage to seize it -- before it blows
away like summer smoke?
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds