This past week, a solar eclipse came across the continental United States, and 14 states saw the eclipse from their own backyards. I, too, was in my yard, with eclipse glasses, watching the two orbs slowly cross paths. The excitement I saw from acquaintances, friends, and family members leading up to the eclipse, however, kind of baffled me. I had a feeling people would be interested in the eclipse, but having a pair of eclipse glasses was literally akin to dealing drugs - if someone found out you had an extra, they would go out of their way to get it and offer you money for it. I should know - because this happened to me on Monday, the day of the eclipse. A love of science and a feeling of compassion led me to staying home an extra 45 minutes before I ran pre-eclipse errands just to ensure a random young woman got her eclipse glasses. And she was getting them from me.
She had frantically messaged me asking if I could give her a pair. She offered me money, even. She wanted to repay me, but in reality, I am not sure anyone could ever repay me. If I had a 1,000 pairs of eclipse glasses, I still would have given them out for free, but no amount of money could possibly give me something in return. In the days leading up to the eclipse, I was so much as directing people where to buy them or what they could do if they didn't get a pair.
But, still, I would be lying if I didn't say I was baffled. This whole thing was very surreal to me - and not because I saw the eclipse. For a moment, more than once, I was utterly confused. I was confused by the young woman who so desperately wanted to get glasses. I was confused by the hoardes of people standing outside their homes and businesses, looking up to the sky with or without glasses, vying for even a short glimpse of the eclipse. I was baffled by that someone was thanking me profusely for knowing what I was talking about. I was seen as an authority.
It wasn't always that way.
It's so weird because I need you to picture what being nerdy used to be like. Being nerdy and enthusiastic and happy to learn about science isn't what it is now. Schoolkids were taken outside to see the eclipse with teachers and aides. Parents went out of their way to find a live stream so they could tell their kids all about it. Science was abound. Science is cool.
When I was a kid in school, I was the nerdy kid. The very same people vying for eclipse glasses were family friends of the people who, on a daily basis, put a target on my back for loving science. The very same people who were vying for eclipse glasses were the family - mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins - of the people who, every day, made dinosaur noises in the cafeteria, as I sat alone in the corner, listening as groups of people mocked my interests. The same people who wanted eclipse glasses were the teachers and principals who did nothing, who let people stomp all over my passion, and let me sit in a corner every lunch period. Who let me not eat my sandwich. Who let me cry into my own arms in 5th grade, playing alone every recess - because nobody else wanted to be there.
The very same people vying for eclipse glasses could have been the people who drove me to the corner of the playground every day.
The young woman who wanted the glasses this afternoon ultimately led me to a choice. Do I take it out on the world? Do I decide to say "I told you so"? Do I decide to spit in the faces of the collective society who decided to let all of that happen? Who, in general, stood by idly, watching me writher in pain every day, retreating more and more, taking solace in my dinosaurs, weather, and rocks? After all, rocks won't judge you.
It seems not. And that's why I could never be repaid. Being kind when people are asking me scientific advice or help, are just making them more like me. And the nerdy kid won't become what you were.
Hopefully, with the eclipse, they've all seen the light, literally and metaphorically. I truly have no desire to speak to these people, not now, not ever - but I can only hope they've had a change of heart. It's nice that there's a kid in school who's being encouraged to look at the sky, the ground, and the world around him or her and wonder. It's nice that science is now seen as something widely accepted and interesting. Science is no longer the weird kid thing.
But if anyone knows it hasn't always been this way, it's me. The misfits, the freaks, and the weird kids have done a lot to get us there, no matter where they ended up.
As for the girl who wanted the glasses, I gave them to her. I didn't take her money. She told me she wanted to give me something back, and she did just by making my younger self feel a little less weird. I told her to just enjoy the eclipse and that was enough.
You can make it up to people like me by saying thanks to a nerd, and I'm sorry, if applicable.
After all, you might have gotten eclipse glasses from one.