In 8th grade my teacher made me afraid of space. In her defense she didn’t know she had a neurotic, imaginative junior high student in her midst, but regardless, I never looked at infinity the same.
I partially blame her for needing finite points of definition in life, infinity as a concept scared me.
Her choice of curriculum was teaching the sciences of the universe, the possibilities and theorems on how it worked, then working inward to the science of earth studies, how it was formed and analyzing fossils. The trip getting to earth scared me. She was bound and determined to make us go boldly where other 8th graders have gone before.
First she talked about the different theories of how the universe was created. She explained how some say the Big Bang theory is the definitive theory, and then she said others will argue God did it. Her theory was God made it and “bang” there it was. This didn’t scare me, this didn’t phase me. It was the first day in basics of the universe.
Then within a few weeks she taught us about the universe having no end. Scenes in my mind like Superman 3 played out as she spoke. I imagined an astronaut being sent out on a space walk only to accidentally have his air supply disconnected and his tether to the spaceship severed. I imagined a skinny frozen lifeless body flash frozen inside a NASA space suit floating through the air. Unlike Jim Carrey in the Truman show who sails out to find the edge of his isolated world, this astronaut’s body would find no end in sight.
Once this vision floated away from my head after a week or so she introduced us to Absolute Kelvin. She explained the Kelvin scale and even had a Kelvin thermometer in her room. The thermometer was at 3, she said once it reached “absolute zero” is when we would be in trouble. Even though the theory has yet to be proven, once the scale reached zero, the entire world would stop along with the universe. All the planets would quit rotating on their axis and we would all be stationary in the position we were in when it happened. Every 15 minutes I checked the thermometer to see if the red fluid contained in the glass had yet fallen to two so I could get into a more flattering position. I feared this would happen in the class room.
I remember going to the mall after that with my parents and grandparents who were in town for a visit that night. I tripped on the stairs in the mall and twisted my ankle. We quickly went over to the bench to rest my ankle for a bit and suddenly science class came floating back into my mind. “What if we were all frozen in time for all eternity here? What if people were just frozen standing with their shopping bags mid step?”
Later within that same week she had us do an experiment at home as part of our homework. She asked us to go outside late at night when the stars are out and lie down on our backs for about 15 minutes or so to observe what happened. So that night, I showered, curled my hair and mom helped me put my bug repellent on. (Skin So Soft by Avon)
As I went outside and lied in the cold grass on a blanket, I realized how infinitely small we are, but this time infinity wasn’t scary, nor was Absolute Kelvin. Doing this little experiment, not only did I observe earth’s movement, but also realized how many other people in the world there are and how everything keeps moving at it’s own rhythm and pace no matter what actions we do or take.
We later learned the different constellations and for some reason Orion’s Belt stuck in my head. Later in life when I was going through a particularly tough time, I would look in the night sky for Orion’s Belt as I was heading to my apartment. I knew, someone, somewhere was doing the same thing too and I wasn’t alone. If it hadn’t been for 8th grade science I wouldn’t have found Orion’s Belt and solace in a moment of loneliness and isolation. Thanks to 8th grade science the world was less scary as an adult.