The Scientist and The Assistant

The scientist sits in the middle of his lab on a old, wooden chair. His son built it for him many years before. He crouches forward and rests his chin on a cane, deep in thought.

The scientist’s assistant waits, silently and attentively, near a polished steel workbench. His master can hardly walk, much less perform experiments. His hands are his master’s hands; His feet are his master’s feet. What his master directs, he does.

This day is different, although neither the scientists nor the assistant knows it, yet.

“Johann,” the scientist says, “mix the third vial with the fifth. Shake this time. Do not stir.” Johann complies.

“Now heat it to a temperature of 237 degrees.”

Johann hesitates. The chemicals they work with are highly flammable. He wonders if his master has lost his mind, has forgotten, or if he’s so close to death he’ll try anything.

“But master–”

“I’ve run the calculations. I know the risk.” The master pauses, sits up straighter. “Hold it at that temperature for 2 hours and 6 minutes.”

Johann holds the master’s gaze for a few extra seconds, then drops his head and sighs. If he hadn’t loved the master so much he might have left, might have turned around and walked out the door. Leaving held no consequences for him. But he had already promised to grant this last wish to his master.

Johann complied.

In the days and weeks to follow, an amazing thing happened: Cancer became the victim. It lost its place at the top of the food chain. The master’s concoction — miraculously — destroyed the disease without harming the host. Scientists later determined that the cure had a 97 percent rate of effectiveness. The cure was named after Johann’s master.

The next year Johann’s master was nominated for and won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The master didn’t live long enough to accept the prize. The committee asked Johann to accept the award on his master’s behalf, and he agreed.

Johann walked on stage to the clap of hundreds, perhaps thousands of viewers. He smiled, although sadness still hung in his eyes, and waited for the clapping to subside and the audience to sit.

“My master,” he said, “Was a brilliant man. Even at the end of his life — in the throes of death, one might say — he struggled to find a cure, knowing he would never benefit. I’m honored to accept this award on his behalf. But I want to take care that it is just that — on his behalf. I did much of the work. I poured and mixed vials, turned on machines. I walked from place to place in the lab while my master sat, mostly motionless. I heated the final solution. I took it out of the machine and presented it to the world.”

Johann paused for a long moment. Those in the front row could see a tear run down one cheek. Johann breathed deeply, and continued.

“But I was no more than my master’s instrument. Before I performed any task he had already thought it through a hundred times. Every approach we took came from a carefully crafted plan. I had but to execute it. While I did much of the physical work, this is not my creation. My master is the impetus behind this life-saving cure. It is his and his alone. When I walk off this stage, when your friends and family win their fight with cancer because of this cure, whenever you encounter another individual who is alive because of this cure — remember my master.”

Johann looked down at the lectern, picked up his notes and left the stage. The crowd continued to clap for many minutes after he had disappeared. In the weeks and months that followed Johann had many interviews. In each and every interview he was extremely clear about one thing.

“I consider myself the most honored man in the world.” He would say. “Nobody is as lucky as me — to be used by someone so brilliant, so caring, so compassionate for such a noble purpose.”

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