Monday, September 16, 2013

From the Mouth of My Babe

“Can you turn glass back into sand?”

That was what my son asked me this morning as I was driving him to school. We were only a block away from the drop-off point. There was no time to answer him with all the deep, philosophical thoughts that were occurring to me. And I didn’t know enough about the chemistry of glass to answer him literally. I don’t think they covered this in Breaking Bad.

So, I did what all people of this electronic age do when they need a question answered. I Googled it.

Aside: Don’t you kind of miss encyclopedias? I know there is real and tangible value in the technology that allows you hold all the world’s knowledge in a device that both fits in your pocket and allows you to place a phone call. But I miss encyclopedias. The process of stumbling across an unrelated topic when searching for something else. Finding an interesting fact on juniper trees while researching the moons of Jupiter. I miss that.

Anyway, the answer to Kidlet’s question is: yes and no. Yes, you could technically grind up glass into small enough granules that it would be sand-like.

But no, once you apply great heat to silica to create glass, the silica loses its crystalline molecular structure. It is forever and permanently changed. It is still silica… Kind of.

Glass is amorphous, or without shape. It lacks the order of the crystalized silica.  Apply heat to that organization of molecules, and Presto! Chaos. But, that chaos can sometimes be quite beautiful.

I used to be into scrapbooking when Kidlet was a baby. Some of the little embellishments I liked to design with were philosophical quotes stamped on vellum. One day, I found one that was to be my mantra.

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher with a great talent for turning a phrase. He was a master of both the metaphor and irony. But I don’t think he meant anything ironic in that quote. I think he meant it as the metaphor that catches our imaginations. But he also meant it quite literally.

Chaos is necessary to achieve great things. Searing heat is necessary to achieve great beauty.

Over the last 18 months or so, the best word to describe me might be chaotic. My life was turned ass over teakettle. And we might as well beat this metaphor to death—my sand not only turned to glass, it was then dropped from a great height.

But that is OK. Amazing things have come from it. Relationships have been repaired and strengthened. New friendships have been forged. Discoveries have been made. I’ve found strength and bravery. I’ve found compassion and caring. And I’ve found new passions and joys.

When Kidlet asked me that huge question, I said “I don’t know.” Then I pulled up to the curb, he jumped out of the car and shouted goodbye as he closed the door. But when I pick him up tonight, I will tell him the answer.  You can’t turn glass back into the sand it was before. And that is OK.

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