My mother’s name was Sadie. By some coup of whim I had thought she spelled it ‘Sadye’ when I suggested that name for our new born daughter to her mother. My precious wife, Elfi, acceded so our daughter became Sadye.
Sadye was a 5 year old in kindergarten in 1997. The children were on an outing. They were invited to visit a nearby farm. We lived in a rural area where this was easily possible. I and a few other children’s parents had come along to help.
Kevin, a mentally impaired child, is a member of the class. He is attended by both of his parents. They are making an effort to ‘mainstream their child’, to give him some quality of life even with his great handicap. Kevin needs them. He makes sudden explosive shrieks, animal-like groans and grunts. He can’t help it. These sounds issue from him uninvited.
I hear the other children’s parents. One says to another in anger, “That child shouldn’t be here. It’s disturbing for our kids.”
But what about Kevin? Should he be quarantined from humanity?
At age 6, Sadye enthusiastically discusses the color of the Easter eggs and where she found them but never the nature of the Easter bunny; a multicolored hard boiled egg laying rabbit.
For Whom the Blessing?
It’s winter. Cold outside and even inside; especially at night. In the morning I wake my 9 year old daughter, Sadye, with loving kisses. I sit down carefully on the edge of her bed, bend over to gently stroke her forehead and whisper quietly, “Good morning, my lovely. Time to get up out of those cozy warm covers. Are you awake?”
Eyes kept closed she nods sleepily; by which she means that she has received the message and will shortly get up. I leave the room, go to the kitchen and greet my wife preparing breakfast. Ten or fifteen minutes later Sadye comes out. Well. Often she does. Occasionally she takes longer or comes out in a mood less than jubilant. But usually she bounces out of her room all showered, dressed and ready for the day.
Any adult must perceive the beauty in having a loving father for an alarm clock. One must certainly get out of bed somehow – by the clock or otherwise. Better wake to kisses than to shrill ringing. And how does young Sadye view the ritual. She would portray it this way: “In the morning my father comes in to make me get up and get dressed.”
There is no rancor in this. She doesn’t compare my kisses to an alarm clock. She compares them to ‘not having to get up at all’. So the ritual is a blessing, not so much for Sadye, as it is for her father.
Living in the woods there is outdoor tidying to be done. The brush grows high in early spring and becomes a fire hazard. It must be cut down. The debris foliage is gathered into large dome-shaped stacks; each perhaps 7 feet high and 30 feet around. To dispose of them, I burn such stacks of brush to ash. It’s done before the fire hazard season begins, in early May. There are brush burnings every spring all over the neighborhood.
A stack of brush is mighty to behold for a 6 year old. It’s a lot of stuff. Sadye watches the burn. In the end all that stuff ends up as a small pile of feathery ash no more than 3 inches high. And the weight of the ash is far less than the weight of that big pile of brush.
I ask Sadye, “What happened to all that stuff? The ash is far less stuff then the original brush was. Where did it all go?”
Looking at me in puzzled surprise she answers with assurance “It burned up.” She accepts the dematerialization of matter as a fact of nature. Movie and TV fairies often disappear in clouds of smoke.
“Where did it go?” had no significance or meaning. The question was, “How do you account for the matter that was there?” Sadye’s perception was, “It ceased to exist. The matter became nothing. Why should it go anywhere?”
Up to the middle of the eighteenth century the whole world shared Sadye’s perception. Then Antoine Lavoisier asked himself that question and aswered it by experiment. He was careful to include the weight of everything involved – the substance burned, the air around it and the residue. And he found that the stuff did go somewhere.
The smoke was ‘matter leaving’. Matter went up in the smoke. The wood reacted chemically with oxygen in the air and combined with it to feed matter into the air. Lavoisier had discovered that, although matter may change its form or shape, its mass always remains the same. That’s what all the subscript and prefix numbers in every chemical formula do; account for mass. That mass is to be accounted for, is the foundation stone of all of chemistry.
How remarkably fertile that innocuous question has been: “Where did it go?”
Lavoisier’s was one of the greatest minds of his time. He was guillotined by the French revolution. The revolution that helped bring enlightenment into the world killed its most enlightened citizen.