It was almost inevitable. My correspondence with Jason went the way of most pen pal relationships; I stopped writing back. I wrote to Jason mid-December, and I was excited for weeks afterwards, anticipating his reply. But by the time his letter came, things were busy in lab, and my to-do list was growing by the minute. Still, I thought about writing back to him almost every morning and again in the evening as I packed up to go home.
I did write back eventually, and afterwards, I wondered why I had postponed something so simple and enjoyable. Was I really too busy to jot down a quick note and drop it in the mailbox? Did I not care enough to take 5 minutes out of my day to make a small impact in someone else’s life?
In fact, I think I cared too much. I didn’t want to write something quick and mindless; I wanted to make the most of whatever small impact I could make. In the end, I spent much longer than 5 minutes deciding what to write and printing out photos, and I was satisfied that I’d given the project my genuine effort.
Statistically speaking, Jason probably won’t become a scientist, and that’s fine with me. But perhaps he and his classmates will learn that science can be fun. And maybe they will grow up with a little extra understanding of the pursuit of empirical knowledge and those of us who have made it our life’s work.
P.S. My other pen pal (Dominique) finally wrote back to my first letter, and I’m including his response here for your enjoyment. He asked for pictures, so I sent him three: an x-ray diffractometer, me in Death Valley, and one of my cats.
P.P.S. Many thanks to Jason, Dominique, and especially Macon Lowman, the hard-working science teacher who made all this happen.