Sunday, May 2, 2010

Propagating Waves of Light

     I, like a lot of people, have always avoided the phenomenon of a propagating wave of light being thrown back from a surface. Lovers see the beauty in the other while the beholder always sees their faults when they see their reflection in a mirror. The indissoluble core of any reflection is a wave of light (or sound) thrown back from a surface. The interpretation of that wave cannot take place until it bounces back. Which leads my little brain to ponder, as the sun prepares to go to bed, not my reflection, but the surface against which the wave of light boomerangs.
     My mother thought if she made me read Amy Vanderbilt’s Book of Etiquette that somehow I would absorb the gene of refinement that was missing in my DNA. A voracious reader and student, surely this would be the medium which would reach me. Alas, that level of refinement was not me. It was a book of rules. It was the wrong surface. More Teflon than iron skillet, it simply did not stick.
     Thursday and Friday I was in a lock down with the finance department – corporate and my division. I work with numbers ten to eleven hours a day. The reality is every cell in my body recoils from numbers and math. I never cared what time the train would arrive, I was taking a sail boat or writing about the moon. Numbers are simply finance’s granite surface from which I peck away until I find the story reflected in the block of cold stone. I chip and sometimes blast away until I understand the why, the how and the impact upon the people. I tell stories. I sculpt the surface of squiggled and straight lined numbers to reflect the faces of people and obstacles vanquished or fortified. For sixteen hours our very different surfaces clashed with brandished shields trying to find the real reflection.
     At some point during day two, trying to suppress the desire to physically destroy every clicking ball point pen in the world, I thought of Wednesday’s walks through the plant. I wandered in and out of racks containing hundreds of thousands of square feet of glass. For some reason, I stopped in front of a rack and saw my reflection. I could see my reflection but I could also see through my reflection. It was faithfully sending the light wave back while simultaneously allowing my light to go through and bounce off what was beyond the original reflecting surface. A different surface created multiple reflections from the same light. Reflection squared.
     The interpretation of that reflection is, I confess, still a journey, and sometimes my steps may not be so sure. Sometimes it feels like running downhill upon an uneven, rocky path that threatens to twist your ankles or send you sprawling forward until you land face down in the dirt. Other times that interpretation is the phone booth from which I, like Clark Kent, emerge like superman. I can leap tall buildings with my red cape flapping like butterfly wings around and behind me. But that reflection is, quintessentially a propagating wave of light being thrown back from a surface. Choose a different surface and the waves that crash back for me to interpret gifts so many more alternatives. 
     The sun went to bed last night. It has now awakened with intense rays of light like lasers between the curtains. I squint as I try to read what was written the night before. I put my headphones on intentionally selecting the music I wish to hear. I choose my surface.