Final Reflections: The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done

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Sunday, August 10, 2014


Caleb L. Heath

Straight Outta Compton t-shirtI have a shirt. Most of you reading this already know the one I'm talking about. For those who don't, here it is.

It just occurred to me how much happiness this shirt has brought to the world. It's brought some to me personally (a wry amusal mainly), but it has done much more for friends and strangers. NASA scientists loved it at the jamboree. And just this Saturday, it made a guy working at a cell phone booth in the mall at Fort Smith Arkansas shriek with joy.

"Where'd you get that shirt? I love physics!"

Not something you hear often, particularly at the mall.

And it's made me start thinking about my love for physics.

I'm always consumed by gnawing doubts. One of the bigger biters is my commitment to physics. How much do I really care? Am I just a physics poseur?

I think this is a question many physics students might ask. I have no evidence for this, just the observation that few thoughts of this kind are unique, and that doubts are universal.

Frankly, I consider myself a mediocre physicist. I'm not a stellar mathematician. My drive to plumb the depths of creation is minimal. If I ever met a future me with a PhD in physics I'd be mildly surprised.

But I'm beginning to feel like it's okay to enjoy the simple things, and the simplest is the lens, that slant in the eye of the physicist that lets you perceive the world a little differently than the norm. My education was a Pandora's box that put a grid in the backdrop of my life. Now I think in vectors and swim in fields. I move from system to system and like entropy itself my attention foments complexity where the majority see nothing of interest.

If I can open just a few eyes, allow just a handful of people to see this world, bring just a bit more wonder and satisfaction, than I can be okay with not being excellent.

Caleb's classroomI don't think that's a problem my fellow interns share. Each is talented and vivacious. Great physicists and even better company. I wish them lightspeed.

Whatever they do, wherever they go, I hope they will continue to inspire joy and wonder, and that their love for physics stays strong through the good times and the lean years.

As for me, I'm teaching math in small-town Arkansas, though physics might be in the cards for next year. It's the hardest thing I've ever done and I love it. Hours on my feet, long nights planning instruction, I should be begging for mercy. But even when I'm a shambling wreck, strung out on coffee and a lack of sleep, I'm alive. More alive than I've ever been.

Anyone who's ever seen me teach will remark that I become a completely different person in front of the classroom. This used to rankle me, but I've come to accept it.

It's good to be Mr. Heath.


Caleb L. Heath