Getting Back In Whack

The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth,’ and so it goes away — Puzzling.”  ~ Robert M. Pirsig,

Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.” ~ Sigmund Freud

Today there are people in positions of power who are choosing to live in a world of illusion and are influencing many others to join them and, sadly, many are.

Something appears to be seriously out of whack with this world of ours and it’s not at all clear how we find our way back — in whack.

So let me proffer my own experience of how I got my whack back. My story goes back to high school chemistry class…

Anyone who’s tangled with high school chemistry knows it ain’t easy. This was a world entirely out of my comfort zone.

So by mid-term I was seriously out of whack. I simply wasn’t used to the level of intellectual rigor required by the course, and rather than buckling down I copped a plea and blamed my shortcomings on the teacher, Tom Fackenthall. (Tom went on to a stellar 40-year teaching career in math and science.)

At the heart of the matter: I was simply unwilling to believe some things in life are inherently difficult. I was, you might say, an ignorant boy.

I hadn’t yet reached the maturity to understand that chemistry is a lot like life:

  • rudimentary elements,
  • constructed upon a complicated foundation,
  • only understood in how they interact with other elements.

You can philosophize all you want about how elements OUGHT to interact just like you can philosophize about how people ought to interact. The trick is to take the time to see how they ACTUALLY interact and then BELIEVE what you see.

At seventeen I had no such patience. I was a guy in need of an attitude adjustment.

Luckily for me, that adjustment was administered by my study partner, Bill Kidwell, who WAS willing to go into the weeds for answers — and drag me with him.

So I tagged up with Bill on a project involving the concept of solubility. (The maximum amount of solute that can dissolve in a known quantity of solvent at a certain temperature. Like the number of sugar cubes added to a cup of tea or coffee.)

We set up an elaborate experiment to analyze the solubility of saline solution tested at various temperatures. The changes were recorded on a graph.

Bill insisted that if we got deep into our project we’d stop feeling we were over our heads. So we worked on it every day and, after weeks, we were able to accurately predict each reaction.

Hallelujah! Dummies were transformed into chemists!

It was all through our willingness to look deeply into a matter, see what we saw, and believe what we saw after we saw it.

This exercise turned out to be one of the high points of my high school education.

It not only changed my perception of chemistry, it changed my education. What Bill and I did together was teach ourselves chemistry and a little something about life.

But like life it would take work.

One day a young Buddhist on his journey home came to the banks of a wide river. Staring hopelessly at the great obstacle in front of him, he pondered for hours on just how to cross such a wide barrier. Just as he was about to give up his pursuit to continue his journey he saw a great teacher on the other side of the river. The young Buddhist yelled over to the teacher, “Oh wise one, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river?”

The teacher pondered for a moment, looked up and down the river, and yelled back, “My son, you are on the other side.”

That chemistry experiment taught me that if I look up and down the river of my life I, too, can get Back In Whack.

“Reality is always the dowdy sister to Fancy.” ~ Dr. Idel Dreimer

Just a thought…


Copyright © 2023 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.

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