Exactly Where He Was Supposed To Be— a story


Many, many years ago, I was an mechanical engineering student at the University of Buffalo (SUNY at Buffalo). One of my professor’s was named Dr. Isada. Despite the Japanese name, he was Filipino, with a relatively strong accent and infectious laugh, and was at that time nearing retirement. I liked him as a teacher. I had him for Vibration and Shock I, and then I took him for Vibration and Shock II, even though that class was mostly populated by Master’s degree students. Dr. Isada told me and two of my undergraduate friends who were taking the course, “You got guts! Don’t worry, I will take care of you and make sure that you make it through the course.” And he did. The course was beyond our paltry undergraduate math skills, but in the end we all passed.

One day, in class, Dr. Isada was talking and said something like this (as best as I remember it)…

“Back when I was a student in college <1950s perhaps?>, I was asked what I wanted to focus on in my studies. I told my professor that I was very interested in computers and in studying earthquakes. My professor, along with others in the class thought this ridiculous. ‘Why focus on computers? There are just a few giant computers in the whole country. What is the chance you will be able to do anything with them? And earthquakes? Who will pay you to do anything with earthquakes?’ So here we are a few decades later. Computers are everywhere. And just last week, our university received a $200 million <I can’t remember the exact amount> grant from the US government to study and test building designs for surviving earthquakes!”

At that point he just started laughing and laughing. It is rare to see an engineering professor so happy at work.

At the time, I thought his laughing was because he was picturing in his mind going back in time and talking to his old prof and fellow students and telling them how foolish they were and how right he was. And yes… I think that was part of it. But I also think that he felt some sort of sense of pilgrimage. I use the term pilgrimage to describe a sense of destiny in terms of religious life. However, it could applied more broadly. Perhaps he had a sense that his life and his passion all was leading him to that point in time where not only is his life vindicated, but where he could look back on his past and see how the weird twists in the road of his life all made sense now.

It is a bit like the book by John Irving, “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” It is a weird book of a weird kid who believed that he was God’s instrument, despite little to support it. But in the end, everything comes together like in a way that made the nonsensical— make sense. I suppose the movie “Signs” also has a bit of that quality.

I am sure I am probably reading too much into a laugh, but for those of us who find themselves on a bit of a pilgrimage, I think many (like me) see a bit of the patterns that help things make sense, but are not quite there yet. I am not convinced that everyone will have that sort of feeling of pulling the veil back on destiny. I think most all of us can only see things like that in a mirror darkly, but such a perspective is certainly a blessing.

Around eight years later, my wife and I visit a medical doctor and I was surprised by the coincidence that his name was also Dr. Isada. I mentioned to him the coincidence, and he told me that my professor was his father. It was a coincidence indeed since he and my wife and I lived over 500 miles away from where I went to university. He told me his father was now enjoying retirement. That was around 27 years ago, so I assume he has passed on by now.

Alive or dead, I thank him for his small but significant role in my pilgrimage.

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