At 88, I’ve been granted tenure in an institution called “old age,” a.k.a. “senior citizenship.”
It resembles a lifetime appointment in a university, where tenure is granted because of your books, articles, the quality of your teaching. But in tenure due to elderliness, the entrance requirements are entropy, chronological time, the density of your complaints, and your bone density. Aging into senior citizenship transforms your transient maladies into thermodynamic decay.
I spent a few hours the other day trying to remember the word “eureka.” It was a word I used often in my lectures. Familiar, yes; recallable, no. Much later I was able to remember. Tenure time is spacious. The ideas and words are still in that spheroid at the top of your spine. You just have to wait. Albert Einstein said he wasn’t smart, he just stayed with a problem longer. Genius is merely continued attention.
Spherical senility means we look old from every angle, every vantage point. Despite the pandemic and creeping decline, why are some of us tenured elderly so lucky, so unreasonably effective? And cheerful? And productive?
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(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. Dr. Stephen Rosen is a physicist, an artist, educator and author who has worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Institut d’Astrophysique, and a member of Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, NY).