The World – The Universe – That Might Have Been… (Part II)

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When last we left, you saw evidence that I was a boy obsessed with astronomy. It drove my very being. It was the reason for everything I did. It represented the meaning of my life.

Come senior year, I ignored the reality of my GPA and nonetheless plunged into my graduate school applications. Everything looked great. My recommendations. My activities. My GRE scores. Everything except my GPA. Surely, I thought, someone would see it for what really happened. My senior advisor, Professor Pierre Demarque, encouraged me.

I really appreciated Professor Demarque’s confidence in my application process. As my senior advisor, he allowed me to take on a project that other students in other schools might not have had the opportunity to undertake. I was permitted to analyze raw satellite data from horizontal branch stars.

It was stellar astrophysics. That was the specific field I was to go into. I really liked stellar astrophysics. It’s all about the life and death of stars. It’s the part of astronomy where black holes reside. I first learned about the physics of black holes from Bill Gutsch in one of his Strasenburgh Planetarium classes. Stellar astrophysics seemed my destiny.

But first, I had to get into graduate school.

To be safe, I took the shotgun approach. I applied to nearly every school I was willing to go to. The application fees were a lot cheaper then, so it wasn’t a bad strategy.

And then I waited.

One by one, the rejections came in. I started to feel as though I had let Professor Demarque down. I think he really thought I would get accepted. I think he thought I was a strong candidate. It appeared I wasn’t.

Then, one day, after receiving so many small envelopes (rejections are typed on a single page and don’t require more than a standard #10 envelope to deliver), I discovered a large crumpled up envelope in my small student mail box. The return address read “Boston University.” I figured it was just another catalog pitching their school.

I figured wrong.

It was an acceptance offer.

Note: I didn’t say “letter.” I said “offer.”

And what an offer it was. BU was going to allow me to host their NPR show on astronomy. BU was going to put me in charge of their planetarium. BU was going to pay me $30,000. Everything I always wanted in astronomy, and more!

I told Professor Demarque. He was more than elated. In fact, it was as though he felt vindicated. I felt happy that I pleased him. Deep inside, though, I suspected he pulled a few strings.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

But I did.

With all the rejections I decided to invoke Plan B. I went to Career Services to be interviewed by one of the many companies seeking entry level workers.

A big New York City consulting firm offered me a job as a technical liaison. It was a dream job.

I took that job and told BU I couldn’t accept because I didn’t want to sit behind a computer terminal for the rest of my life. (Yes, I see the irony.) Once again, I told Professor Demarque. Once again, I felt as though I had let him down.

Then the 1982 recession hit. I got laid off before I even graduated.

It’s not important what happened over the last three decades. What’s important to this story is what happened three weeks ago.

I was in Boston covering an event. It was held at Boston University’s Law School. I parked my car and walked to the Law School. Along the way I passed by the Graduate School.

A thought crosses my mind for a brief moment. Then I let it go and make my way to my appointed rounds.

The event ends early and, on my walk back, the thought reemerges.

I figure, “Why not?”

I make a quick turn up the stairs to the main door of the Graduate School. Once inside, I find what appears to be a main office. I walk in.

“Where’s the astronomy department?” I asked. It was a long-shot. At Yale, the astronomy department was not located in the graduate school, but far away on “Science Hill” with all the other science departments.

As luck has it, the young lady answers “fifth floor” without a question. It probably helps that I am wearing a jacket and tie and look somewhat official.

I wait for the ancient elevator to take me up five flights. I wait with a gaggle of students. They are so young. Like high school students. But I’m pretty sure they are undergraduates. The elevator doors open and we squeeze in.

Boy, is the elevator slow. I ask the students what class they are going to. It is some intro class.

Definitely undergraduates.

The doors open to the fifth floor and they head to their lecture hall while I meander through the hall. I come upon the astronomy department office and walk in.

It’s empty. It’s full of small offices and they’re all empty. I shout to see if anyone is here. No answer. I venture further and deeper into this vast office. Finally, I find someone in an office.

I explain why I’m here. He’s a bit amused. He’s about ten years younger than me. I ask if anyone is around who might have been here in 1982. He said Ken Janes was the head of the Astronomy Department at that time. I thank him for listening to my story and head out.

As I leave, I wonder, might Ken Janes have a personal office in the hallway. I peer at the nameplates on the doors and, wouldn’t you know it, one says “Ken Janes.” The door is closed as though the office is locked up and empty, but I take a chance and knock anyway.

“Come on in,” says a voice from within. I open the door.

In 1982, Professor Kenneth Janes was Chairman of the Boston University Astronomy Department. Today, he is Professor Emeritus at Boston University. His looks and demeanor match what you’d expect from a venerable scholar. I can tell he’s part curious, part suspicious as I enter.

I proceed with the utmost of respect and say, “I’m here to offer my apology.”

Now there’s less suspicion, more curiosity, but much more befuddlement.

I continue. “My name is Chris Carosa, but that won’t mean anything to you. You offered me my dream in 1982, and I turned you down. For that, I want to apologize. But I also want to thank you. I can’t tell you how much your kind and gracious offer meant to me.”

It suddenly strikes me how this must be sounding, and the consternation on Professor Janes face seems to confirm this. I quickly add, “Don’t get me wrong. I’m perfectly happy with my life. I’ve done things that I’ve dreamed of. I just wanted to show my appreciation for your offer, thank you for offering it, and say I’m sorry for not accepting it.”

Professor Janes pauses for a moment. Then he says, “I don’t know what to say.”

I say, “That’s all right, I’m not anyone important. I don’t expect you to remember me.”

“No, it’s not that,” he says. “It’s that no one has ever come in to thank me for accepting them – even after they’ve earned their Ph.D – let alone thanking me for accepting them and then not coming. And don’t think anything of me not remembering your name, I don’t remember lots of names.”

I make an effort to excuse my interrupting him and to leave, but he insists I stay. We have a nice chat. I learn he studied many of the things I had an interest in. He tells me about the programs I was offered to lead.

For a brief moment, my muscles relax and I sit back in the chair by his desk. My mind wanders. What if…

Perhaps, in some other multiverse, I’m sitting in this same chair. Only, on that world, I’m not apologizing for something I didn’t do decades ago. I’m happily discussing the time we got the Hubble Telescope to prove what I wrote in that sophomore paper I got a “D” on was right after all.

One more thing.

Professor Janes also tells me he earned his Ph.D. from Yale a decade before I graduated. His advisor was Professor Demarque.

I think I’m going to try to talk to Professor Demarque the next time I’m in New Haven. Maybe he knows something about this mutliverse thing. Maybe he had a hand in that, too.

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