Friday, July 8, 2016

Chemistry Lesson

TigerBlog Jr. has more in common with his father than he probably would admit.

It starts with a, how shall TigerBlog put this, a sort of geekish charm. They also laugh at the same kinds of things, have reasonably similar tastes in music, can watch the same TV show or movie 1,000 times, can eat the same thing for lunch every day and not care. TigerBlog could go on and on.

Another thing they have in common is that they both got their worst grade in high school in the same subject.


TigerBlog could never get past the fact that he couldn't visualize any of it. In biology and physics, you can see what's in front of you. In chemistry, it's different. You mix this with that, and you get something else.

TigerBlog could never really wrap his head around the idea that two moles of this plus one mole of that could equal two moles of the next thing. How does that make any sense?

For nearly 40 years, in fact, it didn't make sense to him. Then John McPhee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Princeton writing instructor and Academic Athletic Fellow for the men's lacrosse team, clarified it all for TigerBlog in nine words.

TigerBlog and Mr. McPhee were doing his 15-mile ride around Princeton last week. Not the campus. The town. 

Mr. McPhee has been doing this ride for a few decades. TigerBlog is relatively new to it. He's done it enough times now to have a pretty good sense of where to turn and all that, but it's a pretty complex route. You can also do it clockwise or counter-clockwise, and it appears that the hills are a little worse if you go counter-clockwise.

The ride last week was on a fairly humid day. By the time TigerBlog got to the Hun School, which is about 75% of the way through going counter-clockwise, he was starting to feel weak and dizzy and was possibly having hallucinations. Then he looked up and saw the 85-year-old McPhee, who was barely breathing heavily. Yes, that will motivate a person.

One of the best parts of the ride is learning something about whatever subject comes up. In this case, it was Anorthosite.

It's a rock.

TigerBlog mentioned that he'll be going to Lake Placid next month, and Mr. McPhee said that there are 46 peaks in the Adirondacks that are over 4,000 feet and that they have a high concentration of Anorthosite. The only other places that have such high concentrations? A part of the Laramie Mountains, which are actually part of the Rocky Mountains, and the moon. Yes, the moon.

TigerBlog's question was what makes Anorthosite different than any other kind of rock, and Mr. McPhee said it was its chemical makeup. TigerBlog then asked how you can tell one chemical makeup from another, and Mr. McPhee said this:

"You just have to take their word for it."

And just like that, nearly 40 years of wondering about chemistry was settled.

That's the point. You can't figure it out logically. It just is. You have to accept it and have faith in it, since it either is or it isn't. You can't shove an extra molecule or two into something to come up with Anorthosite. It just is what it is.

People, TB presumes, are somewhat the same as rocks. When TB says someone is wired a certain way, he's talking about their chemical makeup. Shoving an extra molecule around won't change them either. Some things just are. You know, you just have to take their word for it.

This does help to explain a lot about a lot of things. Including about TigerBlog Jr.

Somewhere deep in his chemical makeup, lacrosse is to TBJ what Anorthosite is to the moon. It's just a big part of who he is.

It was one year ago today that TBJ had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. He was looking at a 6-9 month recovery time, which put his freshman year of lacrosse at Sacred Heart University very much in jeopardy.

TBJ, like pretty much every athlete his age, probably figured he was invincible. He found out the hard way that he wasn't.

He was crushed when he found out about his injury. Then he became determined.

He worked really hard to get back on the field. He rehabbed five days a week with the athletic trainer at SHU. He didn't rush to play too soon. It was a fight of sorts to keep him from taking his lacrosse sticks to school, but still, he knew that he could set himself back for a long time, maybe forever, if he reinjured his shoulder by doing too much too quickly.

He missed all of fall practice, but he was ready to see shots over the winter break. He was ready for the first day of practice, and he went on to have a very strong freshman season (spoiler alert, skip the rest of this paragraph if you don't want to read a little parental bragging), making the Northeast Conference All-Rookie team, making the NEC All-Academic team, starting the last 11 games and finishing 41st in Division I in save percentage and 28th in Division I in saves per game.

That wasn't too much bragging, was it?

Mostly, though, he was able to live out his dream, to play college lacrosse. Looking back on it, TigerBlog thinks that the injury made his son appreciate it that much more.

Yeah, there's not a lot of Princeton athletics here today. Donn Cabral runs tonight at 8:23 in the steeplechase final at the Olympic Trials. Incoming freshman Michael Sowers scored twice as the U.S. defeated Canada 12-5 in the first game at the U-19 World Lacrosse Championships.

But it is a Friday in the summer, so history suggests that this will be among the least-read blogs anyway. And if you're reading this, thanks for the loyalty. 

TBJ's surgery was supposed to last around 90 minutes, but it ended up going more than twice that. As TB sat in the waiting room, he wondered why it was going on for so long, imagining the worst. Eventually the doctor came out, said that there had been a broken bone in there as well but that everything looked good.

About an hour later, TB was able to take his son home. He was way out of it for the drive, and he was way out of it all night.

The next day was different. His mood changed. His color came back. He wasn't in much pain. He was focused.

Now he's as close to 100% as he can get. He's seen a few thousand shots, and he's looking forward to getting back to school to see a few thousand more.

Was that really a year ago? Has an entire year gone by since then?

TigerBlog Jr. is in a much better place now than he was 12 months ago today, and his father couldn't be happier for him. He's back doing what he loves to do, what he's wired to love to do, actually.

It's chemistry.

TigerBlog gets it now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

TB, chemically speaking, you can't take "two moles of this plus one mole of that" to produce "two moles of the next thing." You don't have enough of "that" for two moles of "the next thing." With those starting ingredients, you can only make one mole of "the next thing," whatever it is.

And, no, that wasn't too much parental bragging about TBJ's freshman lacrosse accomplishments. Congratulations to him and you, not to mention John McPhee for kicking your butt on the town bike paths. May we all be doing that at age 85.