The Night I Met Einstein

This Reader's Digest Classic of "My Most Unforgettable Character" offers a lesson in life—and music—from the most brilliant mind in the world.

By Jerome Weidman from Reader's Digest | November 1955

The Night I Met EinsteinAdam Gault/Getty Images
When I was a very young man, just beginning to make my way, I was invited to dine at the home of a distinguished New York philanthropist. After dinner, our hostess led us to an enormous drawing room. Other guests were pouring in, and my eyes beheld two unnerving sights: Servants were arranging small gilt chairs in long, neat rows; and up front, leaning against the wall, were musical instruments.

Apparently I was in for an evening of chamber music.

I use the phrase “in for” because music meant nothing to me. I am almost tone deaf—only with great effort can I carry the simplest tune, and serious music was to me no more than an arrangement of noises. So I did what I always did when trapped: I sat down, and when the music started, I fixed my face in what I hoped was an expression of intelligent appreciation, closed my ears from the inside, and submerged myself in my own completely irrelevant thoughts.

After a while, becoming aware that the people around me were applauding, I concluded it was safe to unplug my ears. At once I heard a gentle but surprisingly penetrating voice on my right: “You are fond of Bach?”

I knew as much about Bach as I know about nuclear fission. But I did know one of the most famous faces in the world, with the renowned shock of untidy white hair and the ever-present pipe between the teeth. I was sitting next to Albert Einstein.

“Well,” I said uncomfortably and hesitated. I had been asked a casual question. All I had to do was be equally casual in my reply. But I could see from the look in my neighbor’s extraordinary eyes that their owner was not merely going through the perfunctory duties of elementary politeness. Regardless of what value I placed on my part in the verbal exchange, to this man his part in it mattered very much. Above all, I could feel that this was a man to whom you did not tell a lie, however small.

“I don’t know anything about Bach,” I said awkwardly. “I’ve never heard any of his music.”

A look of perplexed astonishment washed across Einstein’s mobile face.

“You have never heard Bach?”

  • Your Comments

    • Anonymous

      Really heart touching story

    • Ad1hen

      We are a traditional community. It seems to me those among us who like classical music without words are somewhat brighter and have a wider perspective of things.

    • Hillington Musoke

      an interesting lesson, a profound impression

    • Hillington Musoke

      an interesting lesson, a profound impression

    • Nurfaezahabdullah

      music is truly a gift from the Creator and we should learn to appreciate the value of music in life.

    • Vgulak

      Just beautiful.  We need teachers like Einstein.

    • Anon

      As adults we have only ourselves to blame if we shut ourselves to music and art. I have for precisely the same reason, gotten my daughters to go to art and recorder tuiton. Had I not done so, I would have forever wondered, could M have played this and that score or how good or bad could M have drawn?  I am currently getting quotes for framing M’s piece of art, I love it so much. We should never let our kids’ potential lie untested.    

    • Anon

      As adults we have only ourselves to blame if we shut ourselves to music and art. I have for precisely the same reason, gotten my daughters to go to art and recorder tuiton. Had I not done so, I would have forever wondered, could M have played this and that score or how good or bad could M have drawn?  I am currently getting quotes for framing M’s piece of art, I love it so much. We should never let our kids’ potential lie untested.    

    • 1242194096@qq.com

      Nothing is impossible can be explained by  Einstein`s words that  start  with elementary things,then you can lead yourself to impossible

    • 1242194096@qq.com

      Nothing is impossible can be explained by  Einstein`s words that  start  with elementary things,then you can lead yourself to impossible