By Heather Connor
It’s serendipitous that my passion for science started in third grade, although it didn’t seem like at the time. I hated third grade. It was the year the teasing began. The year I spent every night crying. The year I wish I could forget.
The biggest, meanest bully in the whole school happened to be in my class. He was my teacher. He picked on me and made fun of me the entire year. I was diagnosed early on with a very obvious and often debilitating case of dyslexia, which affected me severely in English and mathematics. This made me a very easy target for my horrible and disgruntled teacher. To make matters worse, the whole class followed his lead. Because of my dyslexia, I was forced to watch like an outsider while kids played, learned math and read books. I found myself isolated, without friends and falling further behind every day. Each school experience was wrought with heartache and was permanently scarred into my memory. There is not a year of my life I remember more vividly than third grade.
My teacher was eventually fired. He shoved a little boy into a bookshelf and was let go with just weeks left in the school year. It was toward the end of his time at my school that our class had a guest speaker come in and do a physics demonstration. It blew my little mind. Nothing he did was new. I had seen pulleys and ramps and levers. I already knew what they did. What I didn’t know was how they did it. The demonstration took something so common and boring and made me see it in an entirely new way. All of a sudden, I became aware of the invisible forces of the universe.
As the years went on, my life improved socially. But I could never get caught up academically from the year I lost in third grade. I continued to struggle in school. In an attempt to help me achieve “attainable” goals, my educators suppressed and discouraged my passion for science. Instead I was always steered in the direction of careers that I “would be more capable of achieving,” but unfortunately was less interested in. Despite my resistance and best efforts, I couldn’t overcome who my educators thought I was. My high school math teacher told me I was unteachable. My English teacher said extra tutoring would be a waste of both our times and the guidance counseller advised me against taking any courses that were too challenging.
Through immensely hard work, I got into university and studied international affairs. But as much as I enjoyed my program, I still couldn’t forget third grade and couldn’t forget science. As the final weeks of university approached, Newton’s third law of motion weighed heavily on my mind. So, with my liberal arts degree in hand and absolutely no qualifications, I began applying to as many science-related jobs as I could. I relied on my belief in Newton’s third law of motion and the knowledge that it would help me.
I’ve always remembered the third law. If you asked me to tell you the first and second laws, I couldn’t. But that third law…it struck a cord with me. I thought often of it when life got tough. It tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Anyone who has observed the kickback of a gun or seen footage of a rocket launching to space knows that this is true. It’s a simple concept but an important one.
I quickly came to believe that Newton’s third law of motion had real-life implications outside of the context of physics. Even in the events of day-to-day life we experience the equal and opposite reaction. For example, good often emerges from bad and we triumph over struggle. For me, Newton’s third law of motion meant that while I never got to pursue my academic dreams, I was able to enter a versatile program where I would share all my classes with a boy who would become my husband. Had I been able to pursue my dream to work for NASA, I would have missed the love of my life.
As the forces of my life were pushing me away from science, there was a powerful counter-force pushing me to try more things, do more things and, therefore, find more opportunities. This led me to my career in surgical devices, which I love. It allowed me to spend every day in an operating room engrossed in science, but in a way that was never sabotaged by my dyslexia. Most importantly, the opposing forces of Newton’s third law of motion meant that all my pain and struggle to find meaning in a life that robbed me of my passion led me to my most exciting, most meaningful and most rewarding ambition of all…being a mom. My struggles were great, but they were not the only forces in play. The counter forces were there, too, and they gave me my life, my career, my love and my boys. In this way, dyslexia may just be the greatest thing that ever happened to me. My disability set in motion all the greatest things in my life, and I’m grateful for it.
So my sweet boys, please absorb Newton’s third law of motion and think about it as you go through your journey with dystonia and things get hard. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. All that pain you feel in your legs sucks. But from this will come tremendous strength and perseverance. This will be a huge asset as you mature into men. When you feel solitude and isolation from the world around you, at home you have a whole bunch of people just like you. When you feel misunderstood, you are gaining empathy and compassion for those around you. When you feel singled out, you are gaining a strong sense of self. Where you find pain, you will learn to find humor. When you feel fear, you will learn the power of bravery. When you feel overwhelmed, your mom and dad will be here for you and you will feel love, too.
For all the challenges you will face, remember good is happening, too. I need you to remember to open your eyes and see the blessings happening during these challenging times. See the compassion, the love and the support. It’s all around you and it’s everywhere. It’s easy to lose track of it when we are feeling our worst. The good can hide lurking in the dark waiting for you to find it. So please, get up and look for it. Find a way to see the powerful positive forces blessing your life, pushing back against all that seems impossible to face. Know that the stronger your adversity, the stronger the reaction is on the other side. Good comes from the even the most unfortunate of circumstances. So when it seems no good is in sight, think of this third law and get up and find the equal and opposite reaction.