Saturday, December 10, 2016

Gifts from a Great Man

Today Bob and I attended Jay Forrester's memorial service at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Concord. Jay was the founder of System Dynamics and Bob's mentor at MIT. Jay was also the inventor of magnetic core memory—the earliest widely used computer memory. (See the great man's obituary in New York Times, which was written before his death, with his approval.)

Beyond all that, Jay had a much more personal impact on my life. Twenty nine years ago, Bob was teaching System Dynamics in Shanghai, and I was studying it in Chengdu. Our first encounter in spring 1987 thus was an unintended gift from Jay.

When Jay was a young inventor of computer memory (1951)

Who'd have thought that Jay, even after his death, would give me another surprise? Today's otherwise completely traditional service took one digression from beautiful Christian hymns: we all stood and sang "Home on the Range" with the church's choir. Jay's children said this was a song Jay loved, and wanted to be sung in his service. Bob was amazed that I, who didn't know the other songs, was utterly at home with this one. I don't know who the Chinese translator of its lyrics was, but in the 1970s, for many of us "zhi-qings" (also called "sent-down youths"), the song had accompanied and consoled our homesick hearts through long days and nights in the countryside far away from home.

My eyes were wet when I softly sang the Chinese words I remembered from my youth—words I was surprised to still remember after all these years—they mingled harmoniously with others' English rendition. The words and music are so dear, intimate, nostalgic, that I've lost the ability to judge the translation.

[Chinese] 草原上的家园

在草原上 野牛自由流浪
我愿 把草原当家园
这儿难得听到 诅咒和吵闹
黑云消失在天外远方

我家 在草原上
有小鹿和羚羊在游荡
这儿难得听到 诅咒和吵闹
黑云消失在天外远方

[English] Home on the Range (listen to it on YouTube)

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day

Home, home on the range
Where the dear and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day

2 comments:

Jim T said...

...and the skies are not cloudy all day....

Xujun Eberlein said...

Exactly!