Thursday, August 12, 2010

This memory came to me while I was reading The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy on the plane back to New York

When I was in middle school, I had a habit of turning tests in very early. On some days, I'd finish within the first 20 minutes of a 45-minute class period. I never felt that I was rushing. I just took the test as it was, systematically answering questions as I knew them and skipping them if I didn't. Although I don't really remember ever skipping any questions.

One day in my 7th grade Life Science class, I shuffled up to the front of the room to hand my completed exam to Ms. Poliner. Most of my classmates were only turning to the second page, it seemed.

"You're done?" she asked, impressed (I projected) but incredulous.

"Yeah," I answered softly, wondering whether or not to start doubting my answers. I looked at her briefly. "What should I do until class is over?" I asked, not wanting to sit idly about or do something that wasn't expected of me.

"Well, you can start working on your chapter 12 homework assignment, I guess. Or you can just sit and ponder the expanse of the universe," she mused. She was the type of teacher to suggest these things to seventh graders, knowing full well that most of them would rather be hiding behind giggles at the mall, or playing video games in a room far away from their parents.

I nodded, and returned to my seat. What followed was the first existential crisis I remember having.

I reclined in my chair and began to picture what an infinite expanse of space might look like, what it might mean to be outside that expanse of space, or to traverse it. I wondered, knowing that there wasn't a higher power in the universe, how something might have come of nothing.

I looked around the science lab uneasily. Most of my classmates were still working on the test; some were going over their answers.

Should I have done that? I felt guilty for a moment.

Returning to my thoughts, I closed my eyes and breathed in the darkness. Suddenly very disoriented, I put my head down on my desk.

I shivered, opened my eyes, and took out my textbook. Methodically, I turned the pages to the introduction of Chapter 12.