He would tell you that it all started when he was five and his parents took him to see Saturn’s rings through a telescope in a local church yard. For when he got to middle school, he built his own telescope and entered it in a city-wide science fair, winning second place. His interest in science continued in high school, and then when he went to college, he got his bachelor’s degree in Mathematical Sciences.
That was followed by medical school and residency in Houston and then eventually by a career in pediatric infectious diseases at a medical school in Tennessee—taking care of patients, engaging in research, and teaching. But God had still another purpose for him which somewhat surprisingly surfaced in an invitation to leave the academy in order to join a pharmaceutical company halfway across the country. And in that setting, Bill focused his inquisitive mind on how to prevent diseases which particularly affected the most vulnerable among us, children and older adults.
Building on an earlier quest to develop a vaccine to treat respiratory ailments causing wheezing and worse in kids, the good doctor then turned to the thornier question of stopping the spread of numerous health-care institution related infections, and later to preventing an often-deadly form of pneumonia that quite literally impacted millions around the world.
So when the present pandemic began, it was not surprising that Bill and his equally talented team tried to figure out some way to use all that they had already learned in developing a Covid-19 vaccine as well. And with the recent approval of the vaccine, the two-stage treatment they produced will hopefully begin today to be used not just here in America, but around the world as well.
One could say that it was only a matter of time until science made the breakthrough, of course. But I suspect that the Creator of all things was involved as well. For when the Bible says that we are wonderfully and fearfully made, and that God knew us before we were even born, it suggests to me at least that His hand is in all of our lives, gently guiding us into the pathways He may have for us.
God can not only use the curiosity of a five-year old to inaugurate a lifetime of discovery, for instance, but He can also maneuver a mid-life job change that can put a person in just the right place to be ready for a special task some twenty years after that change. What’s more, if you really want to be amazed, go figure the odds that half a century later Bill’s college roommate Barney would end up likewise performing a parallel role in developing a coronavirus vaccine at another pharmaceutical company, unbeknownst to either one of them.
On the day that the vaccine was announced, Bill told his team that before that moment they had been inspired by hope but that now they were inspired by reality. And isn’t that just what Advent is all about as well? Turning hope into reality? The promises of the prophets into the miracle in the manger? For indeed, as Phillips Brooks long ago expressed it in speaking of that little town of Bethlehem, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
This year has been filled with a lot of fears, to be sure. But thanks to the work of my friend Bill and others who have used the gifts God gave them, there would appear to be some light indeed at the end of the dark tunnel we’ve been in for eight months. For despite whatever twists and turns our lives may take, there is one thing that we can know for certain even in days like these: Hope always wins in the end.