We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do for the pleasure of it.
On Saturday mornings during the summer I cannot be found in bed after five o' clock. By five-thirty my mother and I meet up with the rest of the crew, and as the sun peeks up above the horizon, we park our cars at a small blueberry patch tucked behind an inconspicuous farm house in Westborough. We greet Lilian, the inspiring eighty-year old woman who keeps the patch on her own, then dive into the bushes wet with morning dew. When I pick, I enter a meditative state, intent on the task but aware of my thoughts. The air is fresh, my mind is clear, and the feelings and ideas that spring forth are serene, precious, and ripe as the bulging berries in my hands.
Describe the world you come from, for example your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?
The rumbling, bumbling T car rocks back and forth and hits a corner, grating against the metal rails as it turns. SCREEE! I am jolted from my reverie, sit up a little straighter, and look around.
Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching,” and on the subway, that is what I do. People call it “zoning out”; I call it “zoning in.” It is these in-between times when I can really clear my mind and let it wander and absorb new sights. And here on the T, where lives that would otherwise be separate points in space are brought to intersect, is an especially rich place for it.
Clutching my violin and tote bag, I race from the Red Line to the Green at Park Street station, just narrowly squeezing into the “B” train en route to orchestra rehearsal. A man, seeing my bulging bags, offers me his seat…
I have been witness to everyday acts of kindness and been induced to shed prejudices. At the Belmont commuter rail stop, a man dressed in a white cutoff shirt and dirty jeans, studded with tattoos and sporting long, untamed strands of hair saved me from waiting another hour for a train I thought I had missed. Despite his suspicious appearance, he became an intelligent and insightful contender for a quarter hour as we debated the day’s front page.
Seeing people up close and personal has been unconventional but valuable education. I have stood next to, and indeed pressed right up against, subway aquaintances ranging from a mother speaking French with her daughter to an Indian man dining on chana, a chickpea gravy, inside poori, a fried flat bread (the aroma of which inspired me to order it the next time I ate out). The diversity of a single subway car reminds me of the range of experiences here in this microcosm of the city, as well as the range of opinions and concerns. I catch a few phrases between the mother and daughter—“guerre,” “le président,” “dommage!”—and glean their frustration at American politics. And perhaps the anxious expression on that man eating chana stems from worries about whether his relatives in India will find sufficient water for daily use, for clean water in parts of that country is scarce. I wonder at and imagine these people’s stories.
Passing by Brigham and Women’s Hospital on the Green Line, I am reminded of a particular doctor within.
Dr. Paul Farmer, subject of the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, has given me a perspective of the role and responsibility of the scientist in the world. Besides holding posts as physician at Boston's Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor at Harvard University, he travels constantly to personally treat the most destitute in countries such as Haiti and Peru in clinics he himself has set up, at high personal sacrifice. What strikes me most about Farmer is not only his tireless, iron will and devotion to his vision, but his heart as well. His story has been one of the driving forces behind my pursuit of medical research, and most of all, he is the kind of scientist I aspire to become: one who is socially informed, conscientious, and compassionate, who works to cure those who most desperately need it.
I’m not a city mouse or country mouse, but a bit of both. The newness and metropolitanism of the city draws me in, beckoning with the industry of discovery. Yet I love to submerge myself in simple things, among people face-to-face, the most basic level of humanity. I will never be a lost soul in a city, nor a cold-hearted bureaucrat.
I’ve taken from observing the city what I can easily forget at school. I know that what I choose to do in the future must be evaluated within the context of the people around me, and their concerns must inform my goals. School is isolated, but the real world is open, and my science and future science, just like politics and economics, will not operate within a vacuum.