Retrospective: Through the Mirror Brightly

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Monday, August 26, 2013


Caleb Heath

I didn't expect to go to Washington DC this summer.

I'd put the SPS internships out of mind. I tried out, didn't get the green light. It happens. But I had a backup plan: a slow summer of catching up on chemistry and recruiting visiting freshmen for UAteach. That didn't happen, obviously.

An e-mail came. A second chance. You in or out?

I've ignored the Call before. I'd bet some of you have too, and we share the same pain. Not a wound that won't heal; but a flesh that never was. Ignore the Call at your peril. So I came to DC, and went places and did things and met people, as I've recounted to you in these posts. But what actually happened? What changed?

Well, nothing hugely transformative. At least not in the short term. I'm back at the University of Arkansas, still preparing to become a high school physics teacher. I'll complete this phase of my education and move on to educating others for at least a few years. That plan has not changed.

But the vision has sharpened. I see further down my intended path, and when I look to the side, I can see new roads where there were none before.

The SOCKs that Nicole and I conceived of will begin making their way across the country in coming months. I feel the SOCKs are unique among the internship projects. Of all the projects, they belong most to the interns who work on them. Within that summer, they must be designed, tested, and executed, and at the end a new work joins the pantheon of SOCKs past.

This year's SOCK is good. It brings life to difficult and abstract topics, breaks new ground with its purpose-built electronics. Yet I'm unsatisfied. I'm rarely happy with anything I put myself into; I always imagine how it could be better. I've had some practice this summer moderating this mind-set. The first priority is to do, and the distant second is to do it well.

More important than any work I've done are the people I've met, the relationships formed. I have taken my first steps into a community that I knew only on the other side of the newsletter. And when you stand with the leaders of the SPS, when you are at ease in the presence of statesmen and administrators, when you are no longer phased by the presence of Nobel laureates and eminent scientists, you begin to think it is only natural that you are there, and that anything you do should be a credit to your station. There is a saying, “You are the average of your five closest friends.”

And what friends! Long after other memories have faded, there will still be good times to remember. The SPS rewards us well in these internships, but the greatest reward is the company we've shared.

So, I'm glad that I had the opportunity to say, “Yes.”

Caleb Heath