It was Christmas evening.
My parents have invited a bunch of people to the Christmas dinner, which I hated.
Being the only child in the family, I felt abandoned, sitting at the table, with strange people who debate about things I didn’t understand.
My father, the professor of physics at the local University , had no idea what a family really is. for him, his work was never-ending, he worked at the University, and then at home, sometimes spending the whole night in his office room.
Instead of that, childishly, I wanted a Christmas tree surrounded with wrapped up gifts, warmth of the fireplace, and a song that would my mum sing to me before I go to sleep, awaiting the Christmas morning filled with joy.
While I was slowly counting the napkins and glasses at the table, bored and sad, conversation suddenly turned into a real argument.
I looked at my dad.
He was sitting at the front of the table, speaking loudly, waving with hands, trying hard to explain something to an older gentleman sitting beside him. Others were silent, looking at the two of them with a tremendous assertion.
I tried to figure out what they are saying, and why are the other guests so impressed, but the conversation that was flowing and burning the air with its intensity, was not understandable for me.
Even my mom was astonished, she looked like a frozen doll, holding her glass of wine, eyes wide open with her look glued at my dad.
“Can’t you see, Robert, you are making a tremendous mistake!”, my father yelled.
The gentleman, obviously named Robert, took a deep breath, and nodded his head. I could see that he was struggling inside to stay calm.
“James….”, said Robert quietly, “this is not a discussion that should be held at the table, at the Christmas evening.”
“Yes, it is Robert! I have told you, so many times before, as we have worked together, that you have to abandon the project! You will regret it, oh my, you will regret it hardly!”, yelled my father even louder.
Everyone kept quiet. The room was thick with anger, misunderstanding, everything what you can expect for a Christmas dinner.
“I have to do it, James. It’s already done. The bomb is in the final stage before testing it on the field.”, said Robert.
I suddenly got up my head, surprised and afraid of that word . “The bomb”, I thought, “they are talking about some kind of an bomb!”.
“You didn’t Robert, tell me you didn’t finish it….you have to be kidding me…after all this time…after I have abandoned the project and talked to you every day about it….tell me you didn’t…”, said my father. His voice was shivering.
Now I was really afraid. I have never seen my dad so upset and confused.
The bomb about they have been talking about, it must have to be some really scary bomb, I thought.
“James, that’s enough. You are not a part of the project for a long time. It’s not up to you to decide or give me moral speeches every day. I had it enough. You knew I will have to do it, eventually. That why I was brought here. Come to your senses, please.”
Robert took a long sip of a red wine, and breathed in heavily.
“It will end the war, James. It will save lives. “, he said. “The bomb…will change..everything.”
My father was pale and didn’t say a word.
He just stood up slowly from his chair, and barely speaking from a shock said :” Let it be known, that I have nothing to do with this. I have been a part of the process, but I gave it up. Because, I can see where will this lead. I can see what you will do. I can see that you will bring the death. You will not save lives, Robert, and you know it.” . Dad turned around, pale, and left the room.
You could hear only breathing from the people at the table. They were all distressed, and by their face expressions, I could see that they had controversy going inside of their minds.
As I got up from the chair, everybody looked at me, like they didn’t realize before that I was also there.
“Mister Robert”, I asked, “is that bomb you have made, a really scary one?”
Some of the guests were looking at me with surprise, some of them with sorrow.
“Anna, you are a smart little girl. And a brave one. Since you have heard such horrifying discussion, which you haven’t supposed to hear, I mean that you deserve an honest answer”, said Robert to me.
“First of all, I have to say, that there are children playing in the streets who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.” I haven’t had the slightest idea at that moment the meaning of that sentence. It came to me many years after the event that night.
“And, you know, this bomb, atomic bomb, as we call it, will end the war, it will end the way of our lives, and lead us in some other direction. I hope better, smarter and more humane. But before that happens, this bomb, a really terrifying bomb as you have called it, must be used. ”
“Will people die?”, I asked.
“Yes, but for a cause, a better cause. “, he said.
I couldn’t understand that either. How can killing people be good?
I was confused and tired. “Mister Robert, I hope that you are right”, I said and turned to my mom : “Mommy, I want to go to bed now”.
I haven’t slept much that night, neither the Christmas morning brought joy to our house. Everything around us was filled with fear and unanswered questions.
My dad was sitting at his office room, for hours, and just stare at some papers.
My mom was quiet and hardly speak a word to me.
The day was long and hard, as were many days after.
Especially when I heard something about the bomb dropped on the two cities in Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And the people were celebrating that event.
I was just thinking how many people have died because of that horrifying bomb, dropped for the “better cause”?
And the answer was in the news again.
My father haven’t stepped out of his office for days.
My mom was getting him lunch, and coffee, and she said to me that daddy has some problems on his mind and he has to solve them. “Please, just do not disturb him, ok?”, she said.
So I wasn’t. I was trying to be normal, but I was afraid. If the bomb exploded there, it could also explode here, or anywhere in the world.
“Why did Robert made it?”
“To stop the war”, said my mother. “And the conversation about this is now officially over. Go to your room and please think of something else instead”.
Of course, I did that. I started to write a journal. To write my thinking and emotions that have troubled me, and I had no one to share them with.
After many months, the fear had subsided. I returned to school, being normal child, doing what children do, not worrying about anything.
One day, as my mother and I returned from the park, in front of our house was parked the car. I could feel how mom grabbed my hand stronger after she saw the car.
” Let’s go dear, dinner awaits “, she said speeding towards the house.
I was immediately sent into my room, when we entered the house. As I was closing the doors, I heard a familiar voice.
“Robert!”. “That’s his car! That’s why mom was so upset!”, I thought.
Sitting on my bed didn’t give me relief. Reading the book was impossible.
I was to interested why had Robert returned, that I couldn’t concentrate on anything.
Through the slightly open door, I could hear my mom in the kitchen, preparing the dinner. “She wouldn’t notice”, crossed my mind as I smuggled out of the room straight to the father’s office.
Heavily breathing I was holding the door knob. I was planning to enter the room and ask Robert why has he done that, as he must have known what the result will be. So many people killed, cities destroyed completely.
So I entered the room, bravely. At first they both didn’t notice me.
Robert and my dad were sitting in the armchairs, holding glasses filled with whiskey. Robert looked terrible, his face has changed in a couple of months. He was crying.
” I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”, he said.
And then he looked into my eyes. I could see everything, I could feel everything.
Regret, remorse and the suffering.
Before I knew, I was running towards my room, shaking in distress.
Thank you Mr. Robert Oppenheimer, you became my greatest teacher. My dream teacher.
Because, who could teach you so much about life and death in such way?
Who could ever teach me that our decisions could have unimaginable consequences?
Who could ever teach me that science can produce death?
Who could ever teach me so much about following your path blindly, and not being able to see where it will bring them?
I have learned more about life in that one sentence: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” , than I have learned for the rest of my existence.