jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that


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Don’t Look Down

Don’t look down. Standard advice to those hanging in peril, dangling above a void, walking a tightrope.

After years of wondering what I ought to be when I grew up–or rather, when my kids grew up–about a year ago all the pieces fell into place. Practically overnight I knew I should be a chemist, a dream that had been on hold since high school, when my AP Chem teacher turned out to be awful at both chemistry and teaching. When you’re 16, you don’t know that it’s the teacher who is awful; you think you’re just a bad student, not smart enough or talented enough after all. But now I knew better, and I was surrounded by scientists who would help me, and it seemed to be the perfect time.

In the spring, I found myself in my own Pit of Despair. I’d done the research and the math and I couldn’t see a way to go to school. None of the classes I needed were offered outside of work hours, I wasn’t eligible for any financial aid, and my job was about to get far more demanding. Decades of working for low pay and even less satisfaction stretched out before me.

But friends came alongside me and lent their support and we worked out a way-not ideal, but manageable-for me to work towards my degree. I had hope. I had a plan.

And then I came out.

I anticipated consequences when I announced my queerness to the world, but I underestimated the severity and extent. (And my experience is still better than many–I highly recommend reading this thread by another queer Christian for an understanding of what many of us go through). Fall quarter was spent in turmoil: school, work, church, friends, and so, so many emotions. My academic performance was dismal.

Winter quarter loomed. School was to begin on Tuesday, and on Saturday morning I still had no idea if I’d be attending. I could no longer count on the people I’d been counting on. I didn’t know how I would pay my rent on Monday, and refunded tuition was tempting. I couldn’t fathom managing homework and a 40 hour work schedule. I missed sleep and recreation. My youngest child told me not to worry about retirement, I could work my low-pay jobs and then live with him when the time came to stop working. I think he’s still offended that I wouldn’t agree to that!

My roommate says that dogs are never suicidal because they live ‘in the now.’ Yes, ‘now’ might unimaginably horrible, but it is just now. Humans, on the other hand, project the ‘now’ into the future, and are rightly terrified at the prospect of remaining in that horrible situation interminably.

Humans look down.

Although Philippians 3:13 is talking about Christian living, it is good advice when striving for any goal:

prize

Eye on the prize. Don’t look down. Don’t get dragged down by crap. One step at a time. Just keep moving forward.

I went to school that Tuesday. I found a way to manage this quarter, and I will not worry about how I’ll manage next quarter or next year or the year after that. I’ve begun severing ties with anyone who makes me feel less than fully loved and included, because that kind of negativity takes energy I cannot spare. I’m immersing myself, as time allows, in encouraging resources. I will be my own cheerleader, and try to build a new support network-one that supports everything that I am rather than only what it wants me to be.

And when it all begins to overwhelm, I will remind myself: don’t look down!

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Einstein, Electrons, and God

Einstein.  It’s hard to think of another word that so succinctly embodies the idea of human genius.  We toss it around as a descriptor (“She’s no Einstein”) and use it to sell things (Baby Einstein, anyone?).  Einstein: the human yardstick used to judge the smartness of every wanna-be smarty-pants.

erlenmeyer

It’s hard to take a picture of electrons with my cheap Android phone, so here’s a flask of poisonous gas I made.

So you might imagine I was a tad surprised when my introduction to quantum physics included a short segment on how Albert Einstein never could wrap his brain around it. My gosh, if Einstein couldn’t get quantum physics, why is my professor expecting me to?!  Is it too late to switch majors?

But when it came down to it, the problem was not that our old pal Al wasn’t bright enough to understand quantum physics.  It was that he couldn’t force quantum physics to fit into his idea of How Things Are, and more importantly, How God Is.

I’ll try not to bore or confuse you (the truth is, I don’t understand enough to drone on about this…yet), but basically it goes like this: the behavior of electrons can be explained—kind of—by probability.  You know, heads-or-tails, roll-the-dice-in-Vegas, rock-paper-scissors odds.  And this made Einstein deeply uncomfortable.  “God does not play dice,” he protested.

Oh Al, I get it, I really do.  I know you wanted to Explain All The Things, and predict every outcome.  Life’s a lot more comfortable that way, isn’t it?

Electrons move from point A to point B without passing between point A and point B at any time.  Which is impossible, as we know. Except that apparently it’s not, because it’s happening, like, everywhere, all the time.  I mean, on the one hand, this gives me hope that one day Scotty really will be able to beam me up. On the other, it is never, not in a million years, going to make sense to me.

Like electrons, God is something we’re never really going to wrap our brains around.  Oh, we should definitely keep trying, don’t get me wrong.  But too often, we create our own picture of how God is and what He wants, and then discard anything that doesn’t fit.  Like Einstein, our discomfort can halt our understanding, our learning, and our progress.

Quantum physics is so totally going on my Things I Probably Won’t Care About When I Get To Heaven But Just In Case Here Are My Questions For God list.

Einstein died still trying to explain away the probability that unnerved him.  This may be the first time anyone’s said this to you, but: don’t be like Einstein.  Don’t let how you think things are keep you from seeing what really is. And don’t put God—or electrons—in a box.  They don’t tend to stay there.