Buried deep inside the pages of an old college physics textbook, yellow highlighting fading over the years, a description of Lenz’s Law was important twenty years ago for a different reason than it is today. Originally encountered as a scientific law required for the comprehension of electricity and magnetism principles, my second encounter with this idea carried with it a more magnetic force, an electricity on the inside filled with emotion.
Ask my eleven year old son the one place on this planet that is on his must see list. I can guarantee you that I know the answer. Switzerland. Not to trek through the Alps, not to taste the sweetness of Swiss chocolate, not even to journey on the rails through the splendid landscape. No, the object of his desire is contained within a four letter acronym, CERN. Located in Geneva, Switzerland, the European Organization for Nuclear Research is his dream destination.
Buried underground, beneath the rolling pastures filled with cows, hidden from the soaring peaks of the majestic Alps, is a scientific lab like no other, experiments being conducted to better understand and comprehend the most fundamental particles that comprise everything in the universe. As an international organization, CERN unifies the experience and knowledge of scientists from all around the globe. One of these organizations may be found in the heartland of the United States. Located just outside Chicago, Illinois, Fermilab is in attendance at the USA Science & Engineering Festival in our nation’s capital. And so are we. As we walk down aisle 3700, my son’s gait accelerates as he gets nearer to the Fermilab display booth.
I have never seen a group of people welcome an eleven year old boy into their realm with such open arms. In a world where age restrictions limit participation in activities that are most interesting, these individuals transcended the bounds of societal expectations. Just like their forays into pure science research, these people understand that only through challenging the norm do we advance in science. And as a human race.
Inviting my son to help participate in the education of attendees at the festival, he was provided an official t-shirt and lanyard. He was a member of the team, helping to demonstrate Lenz’s Law to kids and adults alike. Whenever I see that signature grin on his face, I know that something has touched him at his core. Yep, it was all over his face.
Playing a virtual game of hide and seek, my wife and I are just out of view. Peeking around the corner, cinnamon dolce latte in hand, we alternate glances toward the presentation being conducted by our son. I never could have imagined that physics would provide such an emotional charge within me. As I watch him carry out the experiment, using his hands and voice to help explain the scientific principles behind the demonstration, I cannot hear his voice. But, I can see the invisible field of energy around him. And so can his audience. He is in his element, living a dream.
My wife and I recently spent an evening watching The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. We have both regarded this as one of our favorite and most influential movies to date. The film is eccentric, sometimes unconventional in its portrayal of the alternate realities in our mind. The other, more important characteristic of this movie, however, is that it is real. And deeply inspiring.
We each have these seemingly far-fetched and ludicrous ideas running through our heads. We keep them to ourselves because exposing them to the public would be too risky. Our emotional well-being may be challenged when we fail to adhere to those well-defined societal norms. It is in accepting ourselves and our ideas as worthy that we find true growth and opportunity. An opportunity to see the world. A chance to see behind walls, both literal and figurative. The possibility of drawing closer to each other. To feel with deep and authentic emotions.
The things that flourish are those we choose to nourish. Whether it’s the notion of writing a book from a cafe in the tree lined streets of Paris, the vision of owning a charming bookstore on a sleepy cobblestone street, or the dream of helping to explain the role of fundamental particles in our everyday life, we are called upon to push those ideas out of our head and into the world.
The cliche states that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. We’ll never know, however, unless we decide to jump over that fence and see what’s on the other side of the wall. To explore, to draw closer, to feel.
Walking down the hallway on the final day of the festival, my son’s face carries that signature grin once again. “I’ll never forget this”, he says. As a telltale grin of my own appears, my smile silently speaks the words from inside. Yeah buddy, me too.