“You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive”

If I were to compile a list of all the scientists I could only ever meet through time-travel via utilising my TARDIS teapot, Richard Feynman would certainly take priority.

It has now been a fair few months since I’ve finished reading the compilation of stories from his past, ‘Surely You Must Be Joking, Mr Feynman!‘, but tonight, my brewing fascination with this “fine man” has once again been unexpectedly reignited. I write tonight, because I have yet again been further convinced of his rare, loyal and earnest character.

source: findagrave.com
source: findagrave.com

It is now perhaps quite well-known that for all his successes within the fields of e.g. quantum mechanics, superfluidity of liquid helium, safecracking or his contributions at Los Alamos during WWII, Richard found himself to be a semi-successful ladies’ man. He did eventually marry into a lasting relationship with Gweneth Howarth, yet it was his first sweetheart, Arline Greenbaum, who stayed with him long after her exit from the living world, caused by tuberculosis at the tender age of 25. It was like a bombshell, tearing apart the peace in Richard’s life. It then took (an actual) nuclear bomb detonation, a professorship at Cornell University and 16 arduous months for Richard to write – but never send – the following heart-wrencher. I read it again and again and I can’t sleep for the pain conveyed in this collection of words.

“October 17, 1946


I adore you, sweetheart.

I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.

It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.

But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.

I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures.

When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.

I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.

My darling wife, I do adore you.

I love my wife. My wife is dead.


PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don’t know your new address.”

source: Letters Of Note

Here is my somewhat verging off-topic, personal addition to this post: Letters are unappreciated. With the use of phones and e-mail, why wait those few days involved in physical posting of that piece of paper, when you can instead receive an instant reply down the phone? Well: a phonecall doesn’t (usually) get documented, or held in both the writer and receiver’s hand, or smelt, or re-read, or never read, or only read after the writer’s own death. I’ve always, always been a postcard / letter person. Because letters are special.

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