As we returned to our seats in the drawing room, the players were tuning up for a new selection. Einstein smiled and gave me a reassuring pat on the knee.
“Just allow yourself to listen,” he whispered. “That is all.”
It wasn’t really all, of course. Without the effort he had just poured out for a total stranger I would never have heard, as I did that night for the first time in my life, Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze.” I have heard it many times since. I don’t think I shall ever tire of it. Because I never listen to it alone. I am sitting beside a small, round man with a shock of untidy white hair, a dead pipe clamped between his teeth, and eyes that contain in their extraordinary warmth all the wonder of the world.
When the concert was finished, I added my genuine applause to that of the others.
Suddenly our hostess confronted us. “I’m so sorry, Dr. Einstein,” she said with an icy glare at me, “that you missed so much of the performance.”
Einstein and I came hastily to our feet. “I am sorry too,” he said. “My young friend here and I, however, were engaged in the greatest activity of which man is capable.”
She looked puzzled. “Really?” she said. “And what is that?”
Einstein smiled and put his arm across my shoulders. And he uttered ten words that—for at least one person who is in his endless debt—are his epitaph:
“Opening up yet another fragment of the frontier of beauty.”
Jerome Weidman was a novelist, screenwriter, and Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright who died in 1998. He wrote the book for the musical I Can Get It for You Wholesale, which marked Barbra Streisand’s first Broadway appearance. “The Night I Met Einstein” first appeared in Reader’s Digest in November 1955 and is one of the most requested pieces from our archives. Photo credits: Adam Gault/Getty Images; E.O. Hoppe/Mansell/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.