Grandpa!

Fermilab Director Pier Oddone holds his first grandchild, Gemma Lucia, while the family’s dog, Dante, licks the baby’s ear.

As we watch and worry about the political debate in Washington and struggle to maintain our laboratory at the forefront of particle physics, it is also important to look at the positive side of our lives. Counting one’s blessings is a very good way to maintain perspective. A special blessing for me has been the arrival of our first grandchild on March 2: Gemma Lucia Oddone. I was fortunate to meet her a week later and be reminded once more how amazing babies are: so totally captivating, so totally dependent and at the same time, as a colleague reminded me, “tough little buggers.” During the few days I saw her I could see the day-to-day changes as the circuits in her brain self-assembled and she connected to her surroundings.

Gemma Lucia’s entry into the world was no picnic: a difficult delivery for both mother and child that might have had a very different outcome before our era of modern medicine and the benefit of a cutting-edge university hospital. What could have been threatening to the health of mother or baby was routinely and successfully dealt with. Another blessing to count.

For those of us old enough for such an event, the arrival of a grandchild is also a time for reflection. We have lived long enough to accumulate more than a half-century of experience watching the world evolve and participating in that evolution. What kind of world will Gemma Lucia inhabit? One can think of many positives and also many negatives. The only thing we can be certain of in the decades ahead is change, and fast change at that. Change requires adaptation, and adaptation requires knowledge and critical thinking, qualities that we are in a position to nurture in the new generation. But those qualities will not be enough to make a better world. In even shorter supply than critical thinking today is a sense of civic duty, something that requires commitment to the common good, tolerance of different viewpoints and – perhaps most important and most difficult to teach – generosity of spirit. There is ample work for us ‘oldies’ yet to do to recapture and enhance these qualities in our society. We owe it to our grandchildren.