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Albert Einstein Lived His Life for Others (1879-1955)

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany.  Look at his eyes in this photo where he is believed to be three years old.  Notice the heavy lids and the triangular shape of the eyes, with the descension of the corners toward the ears.   Would you recognize those famous eyes anywhere?  Well, take a look at some of his later photos below.

English: at the age of three years. This is be...

English: at the age of three years. This is believed to be the oldest known photograph of Einstein. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Albert’s parents were middle-class non-practicing Jews and raised their son and his younger sister largely without religious training, although for some period of his life, Albert became a devout Jew.

Albert loved classical music as a child and played violin.  He was a superior student in his Munich elementary school, but was always plagued by his very slow speech habit.  Some believe he was carefully planning what he would say before he said it, an excellent habit for all of us to develop, wouldn’t you say?

English: Author: Anonymous Date: 1893 Source: ...

English: Author: Anonymous Date: 1893 Source: http://faculty.randolphcollege.edu/tmichalik/einstein.htm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In addition to his strict Prussian education, Albert was tutored at home by a family friend who introduced him to a children’s science book and it was then that Albert began to wonder about light waves, a subject which would fascinate him for many years.

You know Albert Einstein as the man who created the general theory of relativity.  He explained it in simple terms: “When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second; when you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”  He had a knack for describing complicated ideas in easy-to-understand language.  That talent was foundational in his life-long effort to understand and explain physical phenomena.

Einstein’s nimble mind dwelt on more than physics.  He was a man who studied human nature and that is what interests us here.  Possibly based on his observations, he came to the conclusion, in the final analysis, that he would live his life for others.  He said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

Like any human beings, his life was not without foibles, mistakes, failures, and heartbreak.  In that regard, he was no different from any of us.  But he was unique in the sense that he was a genius in science and mathematics, and he possessed a giant gift of creativity and imagination.  Therefore, it may be instructive for us to look at some of his interactions with his fellow human beings.  When I first started to research his relationships, I did not like him much.  But I changed my mind, over time.  Perhaps you will have the same reaction.

Let’s begin with his first wife, Mileva Maric.

English: Albert Einstein and his first wife, M...

English: Albert Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Português: Albert Einstein e sua primeira esposa, Mileva Marić (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With a determination born out of a great love, Albert was fixated on marrying Mileva whom he met when they were both students of physics in Zurich.  Mileva was older than Albert.  She was from rural Serbia and an Eastern Orthodox Christian.  None of her qualities or circumstances were pleasing to Einstein’s parents.   Despite their vigorous objections, he continued to see Mileva and in January, 1902 Mileva went home to her Serbian parents and gave birth to their daughter, Lieserl.  However, it is not known if Lieserl died or if she was placed for adoption.  Many years after Einstein’s death, a letter was discovered in which Einstein wrote about baby Lieserl’s bout with scarlet fever.  In the book titled Einstein’s Daughter: The Search for Lieserl, author Michele Zackheim reports on her search for details about Lieserl’s fate.

In order to marry and support Mileva, Albert needed a job, but he had trouble getting work.  Finally he was recommended for a clerk position in the Swiss patent office.  His father, on his death-bed, gave his blessing for Albert to marry Mileva and they exchanged vows in January, 1903.   They had two sons, Hans Albert and Eduard, and they remained married until 1919, but all was not well.  What were the problems?  It is reported that Albert was away from home a great deal due to the increasing demands of his expanding career as a professor and theorist.  He and Mileva also argued about their children and about money.   Believing that his marriage was over for all intent and purpose, Albert began an affair with his cousin, Elsa Lowenthal, around 1913.  By that time, he had achieved a great deal of fame with his scientific papers and he had become the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics at the University of Berlin where he served from 1913 – 1933.

Ultimately, in 1919, Albert divorced Mileva and married Elsa.   They had two daughters, Ilse and Margot.  Elsa passed away in 1936.  Albert never remarried.

Elsa Einstein with her husband

Elsa Einstein with her husband (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although I may not condone some of Einstein’s behaviors with his family, I was not there in his shoes and I do not know what factors impacted his choices.  I do not believe that he and Mileva abandoned baby Lieserl .  The available evidence leads to the conclusion that the baby contracted scarlet fever and died.  Albert loved Mileva deeply.  But circumstances changed and perhaps Mileva changed.  We do not know.

What is clear is that Einstein lived life to its fullest.  He appreciated being alive.  When he suffered disappointments he picked himself up and regrouped, always thinking about possibilities.  Without question, he was one of the greatest theorists and thinkers of the 20th Century.  Read his famous quotes to learn more about his philosophy of life and how he dedicated his life for the good of others.  He gave of his mind to all of humanity.

Below is a rare photo, circulated on the internet, of Albert Einstein enjoying a day near the water.  May we all live life to the fullest. Viva Albert   (Please note announcement of Einstein’s death in the New York World-Telegram below.  Look at those eyes!)

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English: News headline announcing his death Ca...

English: News headline announcing his death Category:Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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James Russell Lowell, American Poet, Who Brought People Together

English: Photograph of American poet and profe...

English: Photograph of American poet and professor James Russell Lowell at his home, Elmwood, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo taken by friend and fellow poet/professor Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. Scanned from James Russell Lowell and His Friends by Edward Everett Hale. Published by Houghton, Mifflin and company, 1899. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How many of you have attended two schools named in honor of the same person?  More specifically, how many have sat in the desks of two schools named after James Russell Lowell?   Shall we count ourselves?  Well, I am a party of one answering “yea” to the last question, at least at this point in time … for this blog.  Perhaps I will hear from others who have had such a remarkable experience.  I only recently put two and two together: one Lowell elementary school and one Lowell high school.  Here’s when and how the realization hit me.

Compelling full-moon brightness awakened me.  I lay in bed, contemplating whether it might be time to start the day.  No, the clock promised several more hours of sleep.  My groggy brain was  on hold, in and out of reality when, without rhyme or reason, a thought popped up about Lowell High School in San Francisco … my high school.  Quickly, in close succession, came the dusty memory of another public school in San Jose, California … Lowell Elementary, where I was a shy first grader, 70+ years ago.  Why these two somewhat related moon-bolts had never hit me before I cannot fathom.  They chose to link themselves during my midnight meandering through distant recollections.  Two Lowells.  Was I lucky, or what?

The next day, I searched for schools named for James Russell Lowell.  In addition to my schools in San Francisco and San Jose, there are schools in Boise ID, Brainerd MN, Brightwood IN, Chicago IL, Colorado Springs CO, Long Beach CA, Louisville KY, Milwaukee WI, Missoula MT, Philadelphia PA, Salt Lake City UT,  San Antonio TX, San Diego CA, Seattle WA, Sioux Falls SD , Tacoma WA,  Teaneck NJ, Watertown MA, Waukesha WI,  and I’ve not found them all.  Then there are the towns, cities, streets, campus buildings, as well as other edifices and locations named for James Russell Lowell.  The number must be astounding.

My next discovery was that I knew zilch about the man who was reputed to be an American icon of his time (1819 – 1891) … poet, professor, diplomat, editor, husband, father.

Thus began my inquiry into the doings of James Russell Lowell.  Specifically I wanted to know how he contributed to the way we get along with each other … little things he may have done to further our humanity, one with another.  As a way of conveying what I’ve learned about Mr. Lowell, please wander with me, back in time, to the years I attended each of my Lowell schools.

Lowell Elementary School  in San Jose was my first school and my first Lowell.  I was a wide-eyed five-year old, itching to go to “real” school so the year was 1942.  Pearl Harbor had exploded upon our nation, followed by the US involvement in a raging WW II.  San Jose was still a relatively small fruit-picking and fruit-canning town.  It was safe for a little girl to walk a mile to school, ALONE, through cannery yards, across railroad tracks.  Well, actually, I was being closely followed by my older brother … much older brother who was my protector and my hero.  Even though I attended Lowell Elementary through 4th grade, I only remember a few things about it.  I remember my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Breeden, who in 1945, upon the death of Theodore Roosevelt, asked who knew what the S stood for in Harry S Truman.  I could not believe that I raised my hand.  Our family had discussed the “S” and I knew it was just the letter “S” and did not stand for a name.  My classmates stared in disbelief.  Quiet little Joan knew that trivia?  However, my miniscule knowledge of Truman apparently did not spur me on to find out some facts about James Russell Lowell.  As I say, I knew nothing about Lowell until this day.

I now know that Lowell was not a politician like Roosevelt and Truman, but he was a distinguished diplomat who served as US Ambassador to Spain, 1877 – 1880 and Ambassador to Great Britain, 1880 – 1885.  No doubt, these accomplishments helped our country on the international front.

But I am more interested in Lowell’s earlier life as a poet and family man.  After graduating from Harvard Law in 1838, Lowell published his first collection of poems in 1841.  He was one of an exclusive group of five poets called  “The Fireside Poets” which included Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., John Greenleaf Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Lowell.  Their poetry was suitable for families to read out loud around the fire.  This fact made a huge impression on me.  Let me ask you, how many of us read poetry around the fire these days?  How much literature published today is suitable for family recitation around the fire or around anything else?  I just finished reading (silently, by myself) an excellent historical novel about early America, but the author’s choice to include four explicit sex scenes made the book inappropriate for my 12 and 13 year old grandsons.  Otherwise, the boys could have learned a huge amount of valuable history about our frontier.  I suppose we could read the story aloud around the table and omit those four scenes.  Were the scenes necessary for the story’s accuracy?  I doubt it.  C’es la vie.  Apparently, Lowell’s verses were rated G for all to enjoy … at the fireside.

Lowell High School (San Francisco)

My second Lowell school was Lowell  High School in San Francisco.  Again, I knew nothing about James Russell Lowell at the time of my attendance from 1950-1954.  I do remember taking a stiff course in English grammar which was designed specifically to prepare us for the Subject A examination upon entrance to the University of California at Berkeley.  One of the exercises in the grammar class was to read articles assigned from the magazine Atlantic Monthly and diagram certain sentences in the article. The difficulty of this assignment caused me to remember the pain of it to this day.

First cover of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. ...

First cover of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. November 1857. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now I have learned that James Russell Lowell was the very first editor of the Atlantic Monthly in the year 1857, and you will note that my Lowell High School was founded in 1856!  I wonder if Mr. Lowell ever diagrammed any of the sentences during his time at the helm of the magazine.  I doubt it.  He was known as a Romantic Poet, perhaps more of a free spirit than a diagrammer!  I’m not complaining about diagramming sentences.  In fact, I passed the Subject A test and did not have to take remedial English at Cal.  Lowell High School teachers, in my time, were strict, smart, and  dedicated to the teaching/learning process.   I feel that Mr. Lowell would have been proud of the education process at Lowell High.

Finally, James Russell Lowell was a family man.  He married Maria White in 1844 and he was so in love with her that he told someone she was composed from half of the earth and more than half of heaven.  Can you tell he was a romantic poet?  Maria and James had four children: Blanche, Mabel, Rose, and Walter.  The only surviving child was Mabel.  All others died in babyhood/childhood.  Lowell grieved over each of their deaths.  His poem The First Snowfall was written after the death of Blanche.  In the poem, Lowell is speaking to his only surviving child, Mabel.  The sweet words touch our hearts, even today, for they are the words of  a grieving father who loved his family.

The First Snowfall

by James Russell Lowell

The snow had begun in the gloaming,
   And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
   With a silence deep and white.
James Russell Lowell, Library of Congress imag...

James Russell Lowell, Library of Congress image from Brady-Handy Collection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.

From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow,
The stiff rails were softened to swan’s-down,
And still fluttered down the snow.

I stood and watched by the window
The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
Like brown leaves whirling by.

I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood.

Up spoke our own little Mabel,
Saying, “Father, who makes it snow?”
And I told of the good All-father
Who cares for us here below.

Again I looked at the snow-fall,
And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o’er our first great sorrow,
When that mound was heaped so high.

I remembered the gradual patience
That fell from that cloud-like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding

The scar of our deep-plunged woe.

James Russell Lowell - Project Gutenberg eText...

James Russell Lowell – Project Gutenberg eText 17948 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)The scar of our deep-plunged woe.

And again to the child I whispered,
“The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
Alone can make it fall!”

Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
Folded close under deepening snow.

Lowell lost his first wife, Maria to illness.  He eventually married Frances Dunlap who had served as governess to Lowell’s daughter, Mabel.

James Russell Lowell was a romantic poet, editor, orator, diplomat, professor, and most of all a loving family man who knew the importance of bringing people together, to talk, to learn, to reminisce.  The founders of my Lowell Elementary School and my Lowell High School paid tribute to him and became part of his legacy.  As a graduate of my two Lowell schools, I feel like I am also part of the legacy of James Russell Lowell.

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