I’m a fan of space and systems. Not just normal spaces or systems, like the spaces in my closet or the system in our house for putting groceries where they go, I’m talking about SPACE and SYSTEMS. Space, like outer space. Planets and stars and galaxies and clusters and dark energy. And systems, like solar systems and variational systems. How things interact and the structure of randomness and the shape and gravity of time. I geek out about this stuff. Seriously: it’s my thing. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately because of some things going on in my life. Specifically, my oldest boy is finishing high school. Moving on. Heading on out. Charting his own path. His life, and mine, is changing a little bit – both our spaces and our systems.
Space – looking out at space and the little bit of a lot that earthlings can actually see – makes me recognize how much I don’t know. About teaching. About life. Right now about being a father. There is a vastness to what I don’t know. I had a fun thought at work the other day about shooting and tactics and it was the recognition that I’ll never know more than what I already don’t know: my knowing will never outgrow my unknowing. That thought about work is also a thought about life. I think about my son’s journey, and my journey as his father, and I’m brought back to the saying “when you teach you are forced to confront your own ignorance” and man, am I being confronted. I think about the learning and teaching and guiding between us over the course of our lives together and it brings me to our system, and what our system means to our place here.
There is a concept about systems within mechanics and quantum mechanics called the variational principle and it, simply explained, is if you can define a start point and an end point you can determine how a system is going to behave. It has been used as a foundation to explain the fundamentals of everything from the space and time of Einsteins general relativity to our optics and lasers derived from Fermat’s principle. It is a fascinating piece that touches fundamental science and math and physics. It is integral to everything – both to things vastly big and super small – and explains so much. Yet I find it to be so untrue. Sure it works for things like The Universe and our existence but it certainly doesn’t work for my son and me. It is a fantastical example of how life and living deviates from the rules.
Let’s take a look at my son and me and the parallels between our journey to this point and yours. Pick something pivotal that happened in your life a couple decades or so ago: maybe a job, maybe a birth, maybe an accomplishment, maybe a passing, maybe a beginning of something or an end. Something that, at the time, you could define the start point of. A phase. A change. Now think of the end of that “thing”…the point, when it started, where you thought it would go. Maybe it was a marriage and you could see yourself almost twenty years along; maybe it was a career and you could see yourself a few years from retirement; maybe, like me, it was a birth and you could see the end of the first big phase of your child’s life. Did any of it follow the Variational Principle? Did we really, knowing where we were when it started and defining what we believed would be the end, actually determine how our “system” was going to behave? Was I, and were you, able to predict the behavior? Relativity didn’t help me with those spaces of dreams and fears and times of illness and breakage, and Fermat definitely didn’t give me an optic on the anxiety and despair. Where was that universal map? Hint: it was missing. Those principles can’t define the behavior of something within. They don’t define my son for me any more than they defined the behavior of your event: life defined it. Living set the behavior. Knowing this is so much more important than being able to write theorems on a board: living defines life and life determines how you live.
It isn’t equal to the Theory of Relativity and I can’t give my son assurance on a universal scale, but I will share with you what I am sharing with him:
Live your life, each and every day.
Love your days, both good and bad.
Define your own path, or it will be defined for you.
Don’t wait for opportunities, create them.
Be confident and believe in yourself.
Be present: you won’t always see something begin or recognize when it ends.
Be true, both to yourself and others.
Accept failure, you succeeded at something that didn’t work.
Celebrate success, and thank those that helped you achieve it.
Each of these will be a part of your life each and every day. For him, for me, for you, for all of us: little victories are still victories. Let them build. They’ll gather momentum and take on a life of their own. Our knowing will never outgrow our unknowing. Einstein might be able to teach me everything about a journey to the stars but only my son can teach me about the journey of us. Our journey is unmapped. Let’s find out where it goes.