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From College Winter, Unpublished
Written by Dahl Clark

 

Fourteen pages in black and white lie before me on the wall. Some pages have hieroglyphic pictures of triangles, some of squares and blocks, others have static balls and series of arrows. The pages are divided into two rows, seven pages to a row, secured by pushpins to a board upon the wall. Since 2:35 I have been contemplating these pages. It is now 5:19, but my hand has not yet grown weary from trying to record the Law. As I record these pages in my notebook for reference, I study the Law--the Law of Conservation of Energy, that is--since the problems on these recorded pages will greatly help me when the next test comes soon.

The door at the end of Physics Floor opens, but I do not pay much attention until I recognize familiar footsteps. The frequency of the footsteps begins to diminish, the steady pace trickling down to a single sliding step ending just to my side. I knew who had to be there, but soon I was uncertain, because I thought he had already gone home for the day. "I donít know what Iím going to do when you graduate," he said as I faced him with notebook and pencil in hand, still there since he left almost three hours ago. He smiled most pleasantly, and withdrew his key to unlock the office door beside me. The words instinctively came forth, "I donít know what Iím going to do either." As my physics teacher went inside his office to make sure everything was ready for tomorrowís class, I returned to recording the remaining two pages on the wall.

He emerged shortly, producing two more pages from his hand to add to the great Bible of Energy on the wall before me. One page was the solution to problem 8-15, the other to problem 8-45, and these were promptly pinned to the board, one above the other, so that now there were two rows of eight pages each. Sixteen pages were now on the wall. I counted them one by one, smiling. I could not be happier, for here were the solutions to the problems I had much trouble with yesterday; here was the knowledge I had sought.

It was 5:30, and usually, he would have left for the day at 5:00 if not for a special convention he had wanted to attend earlier. My physics teacher went toward the door to turn the lights off, but then paused midway through the doorway and turned around. Instinctively I sighted this sudden shift and turned to catch him staring at me, then at my pile of physics notes atop the table I had been working at, just beside his door. The table was a mess; there was enough chaos here to satisfy mathematicians for years, and I was the cause of it.

 

Only twice before had I ever seen him in such intense contemplation. His pale blue frosted eyes now peered icily into my own; thin golden brown fibers of hair, appearing slightly grayer than before, hovered like cirrus clouds atop his snowy face. I saw, written there upon his face, an almost infinite tiredness. However, I could sense a great vigor within him, one that can only come from knowing that one had made a difference in anotherís life, that oneís profession has not been a waste of time if but a single person can derive some benefit from oneís teaching. I did not know the source of this incredible energy at the time, however, and as I turned my head and looked at the termiteís mound of physics notes I had created for myself on his table, I guiltily asked, "Is the table too messy? Iíll clean it up really quick."

My physics teacher looked up-- "No--hold on--" and went into his office to unlock the door to an adjacent workroom. I heard some sort of movement in there, but I couldnít tell what he was doing, so I returned to work and began to organize my notes. Soon I heard a door creak open, and then there were more footsteps, a sudden screech of metal, a high-pitched sliding sound, a bang or two, and more footsteps. Screech, creak, crash, bang! Then there was a quick, blunt slam, and then a jingle of keys resounded as he locked the door to his workroom and emerged from his office. In his hand I saw a metal chair. He bent to unfold it between the table and the door, then rose up with a serene balance.

I was greatly surprised. "Hereís a chair so you donít have to sit on the table anymore--thereís more room for you to work now," he said. He must have noticed that I had been standing up for almost three hours, since I needed to record the sixteen pages on the wall and because the table was too crowded with work. I smiled because my situation seemed pitiful--when my physics work begins to take up all the available space on a 4íx 9í table and my physics teacher begins to feel pity for me, I know I must be doing some serious work. However, I also smiled because his tired face had begun to transform; the cold wanness of his features had begun to melt into the warmest of smiles. Perhaps all the conferences and meetings he had to attend across the state this week had been responsible for tiring out this purposeful, peacefully vibrant spirit of Physics Floor, but now, the fog of an almost infinite fatigue was beginning to clear with the rising of a new smile. I could not understand what had caused this sudden transformation, but I was glad it happened. The table hadnít been the most comfortable piece of furniture to sit or lean on.

I quickly plopped down into the chair with my notebook and several of my notes in hand when I heard my physics teacher beside me, locking up his office for the weekend at last. I didnít want him to stay around any longer than he had to, since today was Friday and he clearly must have had something more important to do. "Bye, Dr. Winters," I said, as he removed the key from the door. He replied, "Have a good weekend," and I quietly laughed at a fleeting thought that I would probably spend the majority of my weekend doing physics. As he traversed the lengthy distance between his office and the other end of Physics Floor, footsteps at constant frequency but diminishing in intensity as he walked, I sat there. Finally, all sound except the faint hum of the five Physics computers vanished as the double doors at the end of the floor opened once, only once, then closed.

I listened to the ear-splitting silence, and began to wonder about myself. If my friends cannot find me in class, the cafeteria, off campus, or in my room, each knows with almost definite certainty where I may be found. I will be on Physics Floor, the headquarters of the best computer workstations on campus, doing what I love to do best--creating graphics, managing websites, studying for other courses, socializing with some of my best friends, tutoring students, designing physics labs, and learning physics. I will be working long and hard to accomplish what I need to finish, with or without assistance, with or without time. When I know I have learned something important, I can feel a joyous warmth begin to build; the icy tenseness of my limbs disappears, and a childís smile gradually emerges from within. Being able to make a difference in my life and the lives of others by learning means much too me, and I believe anyone who knows me well knows this. I have long been resolute, vibrant, and enthusiastic, not only when it comes to learning physics but also when it comes to working with others; I believe this is one thing my peers have learned and have come to value.

I am the last person on Physics Floor, and I sit there, on the chair this time, staring upwards at the sixteen pages in black and white upon the wall, sixteen pages that had been written from the vast, mostly unwritten, Bible of Physics. I had managed to rediscover only an infinitesimal amount of this grand Story of Creation and Truth; my physics teacher now held the Rosetta stone that would allow me to discover my own small part of the rest. In time, I will learn to decipher reality through the teachings of others, and someday I hope to be able to return to the world a gift of knowledge in return for the beautiful things the world has given me. In the silence, I began to wonder what my life would be like when I had reached his age, however old he was--would I have learned to be as patient and resolute, as placid and observant as my physics teacher had learned to become? What did he do to get where he is now? Most importantly, how did he ever learn all the physics he has come to know? The first step to answering these questions will be to take my first classes at Duke University, because only there will I learn knowledge, physics, and life with the quality and background I desire.

"I donít know what Iím going to do when you graduate."
"I donít know what Iím going to do either."
I do.